The best, Darryl Sutter assured, is yet to come.
Lucrative contracts reward the past and the future. And Sutter, the Kings coach, said that his prized center Anze Kopitar was "worth every penny" of his eight-year, $80-million contract extension.
The deal came together hours before the Kings played and lost to the Ottawa Senators in a Saturday afternoon matinee, blowing a two-goal third-period lead. Ottawa scored four unanswered third-period goals to beat the Kings, 5-3, at Staples Center.
For the 28-year-old Kopitar, the first four years of the contract extension feature a no-move clause, and the final four include a limited no-trade clause, according to a source familiar with the negotiations who was not authorized to comment.
The contract puts Kopitar in the upper echelon of league stars and allows the Kings to keep their Stanley Cup nucleus in place. The first two years of the contract are for $14 million and $13 million — which include a signing bonus of $9 million for each of those years. The money drops to $7 million for the final two years and he is signed through 2023-24.
He will be the league's highest-paid player next season, just ahead of Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both making $13.8 million.
"I've been part of this organization when we went through pretty big struggles and not very fun years when we played," said Kopitar, who was drafted by the Kings in 2005. "We turned that around. Obviously, the last few years have been pretty exciting for everybody.
"Last year was not the year we wanted, but still, we were right there in the mix. Knowing that you have a winning team, that's what makes you want to stay here for an extended period of time."
The Kings and Kopitar broke new ground for the franchise in the salary-cap era. Previously, the team's biggest deal was goalie Jonathan Quick's 10-year agreement worth $58 million, negotiated after the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012.
Quick's extension came together with uncommon speed as negotiations took weeks, not months. Kopitar originally had hoped his extension could get wrapped up before arriving at training camp.
Still, nearly everyone expected it would get done. Even Sutter joked that it wasn't exactly "breaking news."
"I didn't really have any doubts," Kopitar said. "I guess I didn't know. But I was hoping it was going to get done. I was leaning toward getting it done, than doubting it. Never really thought that far.
"…Again, you realize it's a business, it's a process. When two parties collide like that, it can go a little bit longer. This one was a bit longer and it's done now."
The Kopitar deal, as expected, is north of the extensions signed by the likes of Ducks forwards Corey Perry ($69 million) and Ryan Getzlaf ($66 million) who each signed for eight years, and just shy of the total deals for Toews and Kane, each for $84 million. The deals keep them tied to the Blackhawks organization through the 2022-23 season.
Said Sutter: "The bottom line with a guy like Kopitar is that 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.
"Everybody is looking forward to the next part with him."
Kopitar has 16 points in the last 10 games, including an assist on Tyler Toffoli's goal Saturday, which put the Kings ahead, 3-1, at 3:05 of the third period. It was Toffoli's 21st of the season.
Then came the collapse.
Former Ducks star Bobby Ryan had a big day for the slumping Senators, scoring once and setting up Mika Zibanejad for the winning goal.
"Just what the doctor ordered? — I would agree with that," said Ryan. "Going down two goals there is just so disheartening. With where we're at in the season, you try to rally around it, but mentally it gets tough. We needed one break — and we got one. Now let's get the car started and get out of here."
The game-winning goal came on a rare Senators power-play goal — they'd dropped to 23rd in the league with the man advantage. Before that, Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau tied the game at 3-3 with an unassisted effort at 8:34, taking advantage of a miscue by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.
The Ryan and Pageau goals came 26 seconds apart. Scoring earlier for the Kings were Jeff Carter (13th of the season) and center Vinny Lecavalier. Lecavalier's goal came on the power play and it was his first since last season (April 1) when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We were lucky to ever have the lead in the game," Sutter said. "We had a lot of guys just playing shinny out there. We've been playing sloppy for quite a few games now. We've used fatigue as an excuse the last three or four games.
"We didn't get much from top to bottom today."
Ottawa turned its season around last year during a trip to Southern California, and Ryan said the Senators were hoping to do it again. To win against Los Angeles, Ryan said: "It's huge, for a morale standpoint and for a locker-room standpoint, to know we can do it."