You could hear a pin drop at STAPLES Center that afternoon. It is a moment that the Los Angeles Kings and their fans will never forget: their star forward lying helpless on the ice. It was a sight, a feeling that still leaves this writer — in addition to many Kings fans — sick to their stomach to this day.
The date was March 26, 2011, and the Kings, gearing up for the playoffs, suffered a debilitating blow as Anze Kopitar, then the team’s all-time ironman, went down with a broken leg. From that moment, the club’s playoff hopes were all but dashed. Never mind the goaltending prowess of Jonathan Quick, the defensive strength of Drew Doughty, the clutch play of Justin Williams or the veteran presence of Ryan Smyth. The Kings were without their heart and soul, and without that, they were stranded.
When Kopitar went down, there was a feeling of despair so palpable that the notion of preparing for October wasn’t the least bit premature. But for many fans, that was just the case as it underlined just how important — how synonymous, rather — Anze Kopitar was, and is, to the Los Angeles Kings.
While out celebrating his birthday with his brother — another Kings fan — this writer witnessed not only the debut of the 19-year-old Slovenian but his first-career goal, followed by his second just 2:12 later. From there, while the Kings were still in rebuilding mode, the Anze Kopitar show had officially begun in Los Angeles — and no fan of the silver-and — or should I say purple-and-black — never looked back.
After scoring 20 goals and 61 points in his rookie campaign, Kopitar would go on to lead the Kings in scoring in each of the next eight seasons all the while establishing himself as one of the premier defensive forwards in the game.
In his first nine seasons with the Kings, the Slovenian averaged just over 24 goals and 68 points per season. Overall, Kopitar has averaged an incredible 0.89 points per game in his career entering this season, further proving that he is the backbone of a Los Angeles Kings organization that has more marquee talent than they had ever dreamed of.
When he signed his eight-year contract this weekend, few cared about the financial details as their star was, and is, worth every penny and then some.
Entering this season, many fans of the silver-and-black dreaded what was to come. After their team had missed the playoffs last season, they knew that Kopitar was possibly preparing for unrestricted free agency the following summer. That, however, will not be the case with his new contract, a move that has left everyone in Los Angeles elated beyond their wildest imaginations.
Just the thought of not having Anze Kopitar with the Los Angeles Kings was simply too much to comprehend. He was much too integral during the club’s lowest of lows but highest of highs. He was there every step of the way, witnessing his club’s offensive struggles, their defensive dominance, watching the likes of Quick and Doughty morph into elite players while saying farewell to close teammates and welcoming new ones in the process. To imagine life without Anze Kopitar is simply unfathomable, and that, in many ways, is not an exaggeration but a cold, hard truth.
Eight years and $80-million may seem a bit steep to some, especially in today’s salary-cap era, and that’s fair. With that said, there just aren’t any reasons good enough — or sensible enough — to let Kopitar test free agency and, worse, don the sweater of another NHL club.
He is the fuel, the lifeblood, the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Kings. Heck, let’s tell it like it is: Anze Kopitar is the Los Angeles Kings.