Scratching Kaapo Kakko a perplexing move for Rangers

kaapo kakko
May 3, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Kaapo Kakko #24 of the New York Rangers celebrates his goal at 4:35 of the second period against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surrounding Kaapo Kakko and his possible future with the New York Rangers have become a topic of conversation to start the offseason.

Head coach Gerard Gallant hinted at potential lineup changes on Friday. The only one he did make for Game 6 was to scratch young forward Kaapo Kakko.

That decision came literally right before puck drop as Kakko was taking line rushes with Andrew Copp and Artemi Panarin in warmups. Ryan Strome, who left for a few minutes to the locker room, eventually came back to finish the skate around and was inserted into the lineup.

Opting for more speed and grit, Gallant played extra forward Dryden Hunt with Kevin Rooney and Tyler Motte on the fourth line.

Kaapo Kakko scratch perplexing

The scratch of Kakko became one of the main themes of the Rangers post mortem almost as soon as they were eliminated by the Lightning.

That decision was highlighted further when Strome could not complete the game and left after two periods. Why take the risk of being down 11 forwards when you have a supposedly healthy Kakko?

When asked afterwards about his lineup decision the head coach was in no mood to discuss it.

“I’m not going to talk about it,” Gallant said in a firm tone. “Today is not the time for me.”

In fairness, this was raw emotions from a coach that just watched him team get eliminated after three hard fought series. While a response to the decision to scratch Kakko is warranted, it’s understandable why he chose not to address after the loss.

The Rangers will hold exit meetings and breakup day sessions with the media soon. That’s when Gallant will likely discuss the move as well as what injuries the players were dealing with.

Kakko’s future

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

Next season, the Rangers will have only around $13.5 million to fill out their roster. They have some big decisions to make with UFAs Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp, as they can really only keep one. Then there’s other UFA’s like Tyler Motte and Frank Vatrano to consider.

On the RFA side, the Rangers are likely to let Alexandar Georgiev walk for a cheaper backup goalie. His qualifying offer would be $2.4M and that’s just too much for what GM Chris Drury needs to get done. Trading the 26 year-old goalie’s rights is probably at the top of his to-do list.

Other notable RFA’s are Julien Gauthier and Sammy Blais, who is recovering from ACL surgery. The most important of them all is Kaapo Kakko.

Kakko, 21, was only been able to play in 43 games this season due to injuries. He had just 7 goals and 18 points. During this playoff run, he added 2 goals and 3 assists in 19 postseason contests.

The question this summer will be: What’s a fair contract for the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 Draft? Kakko has only posted 58 points in 157 career games over three seasons. That’s not really worth a big longterm contract, so a two-year deal at around $2 million AAV seems fair.

However, we saw the Carolina Hurricanes zero in on Jesperi Kotkaniemi to give him an offer sheet that the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t match due to cap issues. The Rangers are in a similar position, so that’s the wild card that Drury has to contend with during these negotiations.

Would the Rangers consider trading Kakko? I don’t think that’s at the top of their list. Although, if the deal is right for a piece Drury feels the team needs, then I guess anything is possible.