After Rangers sign Kaapo Kakko is there room for Tyler Motte?

tyler motte
May 22, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Tyler Motte (64) celebrates his empty-net goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in game three of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Rangers and Kaapo Kakko continue to work on a bridge deal with apparently no sense of urgency, one wonders if there’s still room for Tyler Motte?

Free Agent Frenzy opened last week and Motte, an unrestricted free agent, has yet to sign a contract. Considering the amount of teams with cap space it seems odd that he’s still available. Which leads to speculation that he and the Rangers could still be talking.

After the opening day of free agency, GM Chris Drury held a press conference discussing the signings of Vincent Trocheck and other moves. When asked about Motte, he said signing him would be “too tight.”

While it may indeed be tight, Drury never ruled it out.

Signing Kaapo Kakko a priority

Kaapo Kakko
Jan 13, 2022; San Jose, California, USA; New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) during the first period against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

At the moment, the New York Rangers have about $4.83M in cap space remaining per CapFriendly. That number can change based on how the team’s roster shakes out after training camp.

The top priority is clearly to get Kakko to sign his next contract. Expectations are it will be a bridge deal for two seasons with a cap hit of $2M to $2.5M.

“We think the world of him, he’s a terrific young player. We want him here for a really long time,” Drury said. “It’s a player we want and I’m not too worried about getting him into the fold soon.”

That sentiment was echoed by Kakko’s agent Mike Liut to the NY Post.

“It isn’t trying to play a cat-and-mouse game, it’s just the rhythm of reacting to the schedule,” Kakko’s agent, Mike Liut, told The Post. “You have to fit the pieces in, but you’ll get to it. There’s no serious urgency with group two [restricted free agents], so they get pushed a little bit down the line when they don’t have arbitration rights.”

NY Post

Kakko, 21, posted 18 points in just 43 games due to being on the injured list three separate times this past season. During the playoffs, he showed an ability to hang with the big boys in stiff competition. In 19 postseason games, he picked up 2 goals and 5 points which was highlighted by his strength on the puck.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to prevent him from being scratched in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gerard Gallant refused to answer why he wasn’t in the lineup which only made the situation worse. To be fair, the team had just been eliminated and after the raw emotions of the loss subsidednGallant told the press he was just trying to win one game.

The scratch was upsetting for Kakko but he shrugged it off. On breakup day, he told the media he would use it as fuel for next season.

“I like to play here,” Kakko said. “I think [the scratch] gives me more motivation. I want to show I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup because I’m a good player.”

For his three-year career, Kakko has managed just 58 points in 157 matches. The Ranger selected Kakko second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Bringing back Tyler Motte?

new york rangers
May 28, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Tyler Motte (64) celebrates his goal against Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Antti Raanta (32) with teammates during the first period of game six of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Motte, 27, registered 15 points in 58 games and added 2 playoff goals this past season playing a strong checking role for the Rangers.

Once the Blueshirts know where they stand contractually with Kakko, could they revisit bringing back center/wing Tyler Motte? When Drury said it was too tight, he wasn’t kidding.

Signing Kakko at $2M to $2.5M is not the issue, the Rangers accounting for players’ bonuses potentially up to $3.7M is the problem. Here’s a look at what the lineup could look like using CapFriendly’s ArmChair GM Tool.

New York Rangers
2022-23 Projected New York Rangers Roster (Screen Shot: CapFriendly)

The projected lineup I put together, which includes signing Kakko at $2.25M, leaves the Rangers with just under $800,000 in cap space.

If the team wants to bring back Motte and leave a little space for an emergency call up during the season, they will need to trade between $1.5M to $2M in salary to make it work.

The two best candidates for that are Sammy Blais ($1.523M) and Ryan Reaves ($1.75M).

Ultimately, if Motte isn’t signed elsewhere by the time they ink Kakko to his bridge deal, it will cost them either Blais or Reaves in order to bring him back.

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