EL SEGUNDO, CA — Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi’s grand rebuilding plan suffered a major blow on Tuesday when star center Anze Kopitar announced that he will return to Europe to play in the Swedish Elite League next season.
Frozen Royalty has also learned that right wing Alexander Frolov is also considering returning to his team in Russia next season, but has not yet reached a decision.
Kopitar, 20, will play for Södertälje, the team he played for before coming to the Kings.
During a conference call with reporters, Kopitar explained that his frustration with the Kings’ progress has become too much for him to bear.
“We’ve been way, way out of the playoffs the last two years, and Dean said rebuilding is still the focus for next year,” said Kopitar. “I don’t think I can take another year of this. It is so hard to play when you’re looking up at everyone else from the start of the season.”
Kopitar has improved upon his 2006-07 numbers when he scored twenty goals and added 41 assists for 61 points. This season, Kopitar has thirty goals and 44 assists for 74 points in 79 games.
“I’ve improved my play, I know,” said Kopitar. “And I know I can be even better. But the situation here is beyond discouraging and I don’t want that to mess up my mental game. That could affect my play for the rest of my career. I’m only twenty years old and in just my second year in the league.”
To be sure, the Kings have not improved over last season, when they finished the year 14th in the Western Conference and 28th in the thirty-team National Hockey League with a 27-41-14 record, good for 68 points.
Through 79 games this season, the Kings are dead last in the NHL with a 31-41-7 record, good for 69 points.
“I can’t begin to put into words how frustrating it has been for me this season,” Kopitar lamented. “We started the season so badly—I think we only won fourteen games before January and we were out of the playoffs well before Christmas. I don’t think I can go through that for a third straight season.”
Kopitar said he has been mulling over this decision for months now.
“I’ve been thinking about it since January,” he explained. “I know that the NHL is where I want to be. This is where I want to be for a long, long time. But like I said, I’m only twenty years old and in just my second year in the league. I can’t afford to play in a losing atmosphere for a third year in a row. I’m afraid that it will mess up my head permanently.”
Kopitar also said that he discussed his decision with his teammates.
“I’ve been talking about this with Brownie, Cammy and Blakey [Dustin Brown, Michael Cammalleri and Rob Blake] over the past few months,” said Kopitar. “They all said that no one really can tell yet how things could turn out for next season, and we probably won’t get a good feel for it until training camp opens. But since I need to make a decision before that, they said that I should do what I think is best for myself.”
“The guys have all been very supportive,” added Kopitar. “I know they’d rather have me play here, but they said they would support whatever decision I make and they are sticking to that. I really appreciate that.”
On the bright side, Kopitar said that he could return to the Kings whenever he wants, just like other NHL players who have played in European leagues.
“The contract I’m signing with Södertälje will allow me to return to the Kings whenever I want,” Kopitar explained. “If I see things headed in the right direction, I’ll definitely come back.”
But on the other side of the coin, the Kings have lost their best player—maybe two of their best players who they were building their team around. This is certainly a major blow to their rebuilding efforts and will almost guarantee yet another year of floundering among the also-rans of the NHL.
There has been no comment from Lombardi or any of the Kings’ players or coaches yet, but Lombardi and head coach Marc Crawford will speak with the media during a conference call this afternoon.
It would seem that the one bright spot in all this is that Kopitar said that any contract he signs with Södertälje would have a clause that will allow him to return to the Kings at any time. But there is one other bright spot, and that is the fact that this news came to light on April 1.
If you haven’t already figured it out, this is an April Fools Day gag story, a tradition I started long, long ago over on the Online Kingdom and will now begin anew here on Frozen Royalty. Nothing stated above is true. My apologies to Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Dean Lombardi, Rob Blake, Dustin Brown, Michael Cammalleri, the Los Angeles Kings and anyone else who may be directly or indirectly affected by this story. No malice was intended. This was nothing more than an attempt at humor on April Fools Day.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.