It's been a good stretch of luck for Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi. He saw first-round draft pick Drew Doughty make the cut, played a successful game of hardball with RFA Patrick O'Sullivan and then, late last night, the cherry on the sundae: Star center and poker ace Anze Kopitar agreed to a seven-year contract extension that will run through the 2015-2016 season. (UPDATE: $47.6 million over seven.)
Rudy Kelly celebrates at Battle of California. The Two-Line Pass thinks the Kings are set up at the forward spot for quite a while. A Queen Among Kings relays a note that "Kopi's 7-year contract is the second longest ever signed by a King. The longest was 8 years by Wayne Gretzky in 1988."
The sudden nature of Kopitar's deal is remarkable when you consider how much tough-guy posturing Lombardi had this summer in preparation for other teams attempting raid his RFAs (Kopitar and defenseman Jack Johnson) next year. Perhaps that talk was as much for Kopitar's people as it was for rivals: Hey, he's not going anywhere, so let's get this thing done.
Is this indeed the start of a new era for the Kings? It'll take more than Kopitar to make that happen, unless he learns how to play goal. But as this terrific feature story in the LA Times explained, Anze is a special player who's mature beyond his years:
He wasn't quite 17 when he traveled from his home country of Slovenia to Sweden, settling by himself in a cramped apartment and joining the only club that extended him a tryout. He walked, bicycled or hopped a bus to get to the 6,200-seat arena, where he competed with and against grown men. "I had to," Kopitar says, "if I wanted to improve."
Four years later, Kopitar is a third-year center on the Kings and is considered one of the most exciting players in the NHL. "Hockey has always been first in my life," he says. "I knew I'd have to sacrifice something for that and I did."