Kaapo Kakko agrees to 1-year contract with Rangers

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about getting offseason business done quickly. Kaapo Kakko and the New York Rangers agreed to a one-year contract worth $2.4 million on Thursday, less than two weeks after their season ended and fewer than weeks before the forward would’ve become a restricted free agent July 1.

The amount equals what his qualifying offer would have been.

“All the things over here, I like it,” Kakko said at breakup day. “Everyone here wants to win, there’s a chance here to win … So, I like it here.”

The one-year length of the contract is not a surprise considering Kakko is coming off a down season. A one- or two-year deal was expected as the Rangers want the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft to take a major step forward in his game.

Kakko scored 13 goals and finished with 19 points in 61 games this season. He mostly played on the third line after failing to generate much on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to start the season.

“I got the chance, first line with Mika and ‘Kreids,’ so I can’t say I never get the chance,” Kakko said. “I’m not saying that wasn’t a good line but it just never worked out … all those games we played together, it just never work out that well. If you’re playing those minutes, you have to score some goals. That line, we never scored that much.”

The 23-year-old also missed 21 games due to a lower-body injury in the first half of the season.

Kakko brought little to the table during a frustrating postseason for the winger. He had one goal and one assist in 15 games, and was scratched for Game 2 against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final. Though his metrics weren’t poor, Kakko failed to score in his last 11 postseason games.

Related: Kaapo Kakko’s future with Rangers big question mark this offseason

This could be Kaapo Kakko’s last chance with Rangers

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Kakko does have the potential to bring a lot of value to his affordable $2.4 million calary cap hit, which is just $300,000 more than the past two seasons. He’s responsible defensively and controls the puck well along the walls and behind the net in the offensive zone. So, his contract is a bargain even if he plays on the third line. It will be a steal if he can figure out how to consistently put the puck into the back of the net.

Of course, his low AAV makes Kakko an attractive trade candidate, though it’d appear the Rangers would be selling low on him and still believe in the player he can become.

He did score 18 goals and 40 points in 2022-23, which simultaneously gives the Rangers hope better days are ahead and frustration about how he didn’t produce enough this past season.

Rangers general manager Chris Drury compared where Kakko is this summer to Alexis Lafreniere a year ago at this time, when the Rangers ignored outside opinion and held on to the 2020 top overall pick despite his slow progress in the NHL. Lafreniere blossomed into a 28-goal scorer this season.

Coach Peter Laviolette also took blame for Kakko’s disappointing season.

“My responsibility as coach is to unleash these players. You hope it happens with all of them, but with some it doesn’t and I have to figure out a better way to get him involved,” Laviolette said last week. “There’s responsibility on him, too, what he brings to the table and what he brings to the game.”

In 300 NHL games, Kakko has 117 points (57 goals, 60 assists). He has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 44 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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