Kings lock up center Anze Kopitar with 8-year, $80M contract

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anze Kopitar is a cornerstone for the Los Angeles Kings, and his new contract could keep him in place for the rest of his career.

Kopitar agreed to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension with the Kings on Saturday, keeping the franchise center with the club through the 2023-24 season.

After months of negotiations, Kopitar's agent, Pat Brisson, confirmed the terms of the contract, which makes Kopitar one of the NHL's highest-paid players. The contract is the longest allowed by the NHL, and its $10 million average annual value trails only Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who each make $10.5 million.

Kopitar was scheduled to be a free agent this summer, but the deal conceivably keeps the two-time Stanley Cup champion with his only NHL team for 18 seasons.

"I've expressed throughout the process that I'd like to stay here," Kopitar said after contributing an assist in the Kings' 5-3 loss to Ottawa on Saturday. "When it's finalized, it's obviously some sort of relief and a very nice feeling."

Kopitar has been Los Angeles' leading scorer in each of the previous eight seasons, emerging as a two-way standout with remarkable playmaking and scoring skills. The 28-year-old Slovenian star has 230 goals and 415 assists in 725 games over 10 seasons with the Kings, who drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2005.

"He's worth every penny of it," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. "A guy that's good enough to do that, you win championships with players like that. ... A guy like Kopitar, his best years are in front of him. Guys get rewarded for winning Stanley Cups, and when they're with one franchise for that period of time, when you've won Cups, then everybody is looking forward to the next part with them."

Kopitar will make $14 million next season, including a $9 million signing bonus. His $13 million salary in 2017-18 also includes a $9 million signing bonus. His salary scales back to $12 million in 2018-19, $11 million in 2019-20, $8 million in 2020-21 and 2021-22 and $7 million for the final two seasons.

Kopitar has a no-movement clause in the first four seasons of the deal and a limited no-movement clause for the final four seasons requiring him to submit a list of seven teams acceptable for a trade.

After a scoring slump last season and early this year, Kopitar has been on a tear lately with 16 points in 10 games for the first-place Kings. He has 12 goals and 24 assists in 43 games this season, again leading the Kings in scoring.

He has seven career 20-goal seasons, although he managed just 16 last season. Kopitar acknowledged the negotiations were a distraction.

"Probably I was thinking too much when it was going to be done, how it was going to be done and everything," Kopitar said. "I just had to put it aside and hope that eventually it's going to get resolved. It's a business, and sometimes things like that drag on a little bit longer than you'd like."

Kopitar is a two-time finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward. He also led tiny Slovenia to the quarterfinals of the Sochi Olympic tournament.

Alongside defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick, Kopitar is at the core of the best teams in the Second Six franchise's 49-year history. They led the eighth-seeded Kings to their first Stanley Cup title in 2012, and they repeated the feat in 2014 after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2013.

But Kopitar didn't make the playoffs in his first three seasons with the Kings after breaking in as a skinny 19-year-old in 2006.

"I've been a part of this organization when we went through pretty big struggles and not very fun years," Kopitar said. "We turned that around, and obviously the last few years have been pretty exciting for everybody. Knowing that we have a winning team here, that's what makes you want to stay here an extended period of time."

Los Angeles missed the playoffs last season but has come back strong with largely the same core of those championship-winning teams, opening a healthy lead atop the Pacific.

Kopitar is beloved by Los Angeles fans who appreciate his talent and community service work alongside his wife, Ines. His dog, Gustl, even has a Twitter account with more than 4,000 followers.

"For me, it's not going to change my game," Kopitar said. "It's not going to change my mindset. It's the same way: Be the best you can be, help your team win."

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