Kaapo Kakko’s Future with the New York Rangers

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 06: Kaapo Kakko #24 of the New York Rangers skates against the New Jersey Devils during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 06, 2021 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Devils 6-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 06: Kaapo Kakko #24 of the New York Rangers skates against the New Jersey Devils during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 06, 2021 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Devils 6-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

New York Rangers Head Coach Gerard Gallant made a head scratching decision prior to Game Six in Tampa Bay. Along with line changes we had not yet seen this year, Kaapo Kakko was a healthy scratch, while Dryden Hunt was inserted into the lineup for the first time since Round One.

While Kakko had not shown up in the goal scoring department much since Game Two of the Conference Finals, it was clear as day that he was one of the better player’s on the ice in terms of puck possession and play driving, ultimately leading to the success we were seeing from Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere.

The scratching of Kakko is not the reason the Rangers lost this game and series. That is not what we are here to talk about. This decision from Gallant puts the former #2 overall pick’s future with the team in question.

If you had been asked a week ago, the discussion of Kakko’s restricted free agency this summer would be a non-story. The consensus was that he was certain to receive a bridge deal in the 2-2.5 million, similar to that of Chytil last summer.

This is still possible, and likely what all Ranger fans are still hoping for. However, there is newly developed speculation. This opens up the possibility of the rare offer sheet. These very rarely happen, and it is even more rare that they aren’t matched. Last year, Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet with the Hurricanes, and it was not matched by the Canadiens. With this recently occurring, it could lead to a trend of organizations doing this more often.

If you are Kaapo Kakko, and you were scratched in the most important game of the season for Dryden Hunt and a less than fifty percent healthy Ryan Strome, all while being just 21 years old and playing efficient hockey in your first deep playoff run, why wouldn’t you entertain the idea of a team paying you more money and swiping you from The Big Apple.

Offer sheets are not only about team’s matching the salary, the player also must accept it. Prior to this dilemma, it was assumed that Kakko would be comfortable in New York, and would only accept an outlandish offer. Now, that assumption has changed.

Due to the Ranger’s limited cap space, it would have been massive for them to retain a skilled player at a cheap salary for multiple years. Now, there is the potential that they will have to overpay for him in order to match an offer sheet, or could simply lose him to one. That would create another hole on this 2022-23 roster. While there are names (ie: Kravstov) that could replace him, we would love to live in a world where the Rangers could have both, and the chances of that have decreased immensely.

What is different about this scenario is that quite a few other teams could be in play for this. It would likely take only 4.5 million to get into a range where the Rangers cannot match an offer. This would not even be a gross overpay, due to the potential that he has, especially if given a larger role on another team.

Not only is an offer sheet in play, but this one critical decision from Gallant could have Kakko out the door via trade. If Chris Drury strongly suspects there to be offer sheets and is struggling to make a deal deep into the summer, he must trade his rights. It would be detrimental to lose your top pick from only three years ago for no assets in return.

It will be an easier pill to swallow if Kakko is the centerpiece in a deal for high end talent. Could the Rangers make a move for Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Alex DeBrincat? Possibly, but that assumption would be a stretch since Drury will likely need to scrape the bottom of the barrel and find bargains to fill out the roster. A move like this would only make creating the bottom six harder.

Could Kakko’s rights be swapped to the Oilers for either Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi’s rights? They could, but there hasn’t been any noise on that front. Another possibility is the Rangers creating a package of assets to get back into the first round of this year’s draft. For example, the Blue Jackets have two first round picks, with one being #12 overall. If Drury is hesitant to make a big splash, could he send Kakko and Nils Lundkvist (who appears to be stuck in a defensive log jam) their way and gain a lottery pick? All of these options are possible.

Another option is Kakko being back in blue on opening night on a cheap two-year deal. There has been nothing said from the organization or the player to create a high level of confidence that he will be out the door. But reading the tea leaves, this scratch has added a twist to this discussion.

The Rangers had a phenomenal season where they exceeded expectations immensely. Gallant was a big part of this team evolution throughout the season. However, this decision has left us walking away from a great postseason run with many questions. We will see how and when they are answered.

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