NHL Insider explains why Kaapo Kakko contract makes it easier for Rangers to trade forward

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
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Just because Kaapo Kakko and the New York Rangers agreed on a one-year, $2.4 million contract last week doesn’t mean the 23 year-old forward will suit up for the Blueshirts next season.

NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman said as much on his recent 32 Thoughts podcast, explaining that it’s now easier to trade Kakko since there’s cost certainty with his contract. And it’s his take that each side is OK with this.

“I think this is a little bit of a strategy by team and agent to say, ‘Let’s eliminate the guesswork so if there is anywhere else out there that makes sense for him and is willing to propose us a fair deal, we’re all going to know what the numbers are.'” Friedman said.

Having the contract in place before the NHL draft and free agency, and for such an affordable salary cap hit, could make Kakko an attractive commodity on the trade market. There likely will be teams interested in finding out what it would take to pry Kakko away from the Rangers, who likely would be reluctant to sell low after his disappointing 2023-24 season.

Kakko is also an intriguing chip if the Rangers look to include him in a bigger deal, trade, for a top-line right wing.

Either way, knowing exactly what his cap hit is ahead of his restricted free agency in the summer of 2025 takes the guesswork out of the equation to trade him.

“Look, this could be a really active trading season, if there’s another team that’s out there that likes Kakko, they don’t have to sit there and say, ‘Well what’s his number going to be?’ Or, ‘We have to negotiate a contract,'” Friedman added on the Jeff Marek Shows. “The business is taken care of, and it just makes life easier on everyone involved.”

Related: Here’s what’s next for Rangers, Kaapo Kakko after contract agreement

Rangers could keep or trade Kaapo Kakko after agreeing on contract

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche
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Of course, general manager Chris Drury likened Kakko’s situation this summer to that of Alexis Lafreniere a year ago. Following a disappointing first three seasons after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Drury refused to trade Lafreniere. The 22-year-old responded by scoring an NHL career-high 28 goals and 57 points this past season and another eight goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Rangers would love it if Kakko, one year older and the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, would break out like Lafreniere did. Kakko did score 18 goals and 40 points in 2022-23 but dropped to 13 goals and 19 points this past season, when he also missed 21 games due to a lower-body injury. Unlike Lafreniere, Kakko did not thrive in the playoffs, scoring just one goal in 15 games and being scratched in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers.

In a best-case scenario, Kakko would remain in New York, hold down a top-six role and be a consistent producer, all for a very affordable AAV.

Kakko often complains about his ice time and could be hoping for a fresh start elsewhere. However, he did acknowledge he didn’t make the most of his chances to play on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

“That’s what this is, it’s a business decision that makes sense for player and team, and everybody here is OK with either option,” Friedman explained. “They’re OK if next year’s team is New York and they’re OK if his next-year’s team is somewhere else.”

The past is the past. But the next few weeks will determine Kakko’s immediate future on Broadway.

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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