Kaapo Kakko’s time with Rangers should be over at right trade price

I don’t think the Rangers necessarily need to move on from Kaapo Kakko, who at the very least is a conscientious and effective checking-type winger that contenders covet, but I think it’s probably best for the Finn to move on from the Rangers.

There’s just been so much disappointment over the last five years. It’s five years — two of which were interrupted by significant injuries — but in a lot of ways, it feels like Kakko hasn’t even started yet despite having played 300 NHL games since his 2019 second-overall selection.

There has been one false start after another playing for a team that is dialed in on winning the Stanley Cup. There would be more tolerance for errors and more patience on a rebuilding team. There’d be more air for the 23-year-old — still 23 — to breathe.

It feels as if he needs a fresh start.

Kaapo Kakko skates against the Carolina Hurricanes during the playoffs. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Though the Rangers cannot afford to simply give him away.

Two years ago coming up on restricted free agency, Kakko surprisingly was a healthy scratch for Game 6 of the conference final against Tampa Bay. He said on that breakup day that he intended to re-sign and he did for two years at an annual $2.1 million cap hit.

Coming up on restricted free agency again, Kakko shockingly was a healthy scratch for Game 2 of the conference final against Florida. He said at Tuesday’s breakup day that he likes it here.

“We’ll see, but I like all the things here,” No. 24 said when asked if he felt his future was in New York. “The team’s great, everyone wants to win, I feel there’s a chance to win.

“It is going to be the same thing next season, so I like it here.”

This is not about the pingpong ball drawing four years ago. It’s not about evaluating him as a former second-overall pick. That became a sunk cost a while ago. Now, it is simply a matter of the Rangers finding the way to get the most value out of Kakko, who would probably be in line for a one-year, show-me deal of around $2.5 million.

Head coach Peter Laviolette put some blame on himself for Kakko’s disappointing season in which he started on the right with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider but could not lock down the assignment and was shifted to the third line after 11 games.

Kaapo Kakko takes a shot against the Capitals during the postseason. Getty Images

“In my conversation with Kaapo, I took my responsibility. As a coach, I didn’t find it with him,” Laviolette said after stating that he believes that Kakko does have top-six capability. “I think he’s a good player and we were all hoping he would take another step.

“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. There’s responsibility on him, too, what he brings to the table and what he brings to the game.”

Kakko was the portrait of accountability on breakup day. He noted the opportunity he had been given out of camp. Actually, Kakko was given two separate chances to claim that assignment this year, playing that spot for the first 11 games and then another six-game audition the second half of February after returning from a serious leg injury. Kreider and Zibanejad have played at least 150 minutes at five-on-five with seven different right wings over the last three seasons. The combination with Kakko is on for 2.04 goals per 60:00. That’s equates to 1.02 fewer goals per 60:00 than any of the other triumvirates

“I came for this season, felt pretty good, new coach and a new chance,” Kakko said. “I talked with him after the summer, he told me I was getting the chance to play with Mika and Kreids and I felt pretty good about that.

“But all those games we played together, it never worked out that well. If you’re playing those minutes you have to score some goals and I feel that line never scored that much. I can’t say I never got the chance. If I had been a good enough player it wouldn’t matter who is with me.”

Kaapo Kakko plays the puck out of the corner against the Panthers. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Fact is that the line was on for two goals the first 11 games. Of course, the unit yielded only one. No one ever, but ever, has accused Kakko of being delinquent on the defensive side of the puck. He is diligent. He wins pucks. Of course there is a disconnect from there to putting the puck in the net.

Again, you put Kakko on the right side of a checking line and your worries are over. But is that what he wants? Is that the best for his career? Is that how he will ever have a chance to be the best version of himself? When it comes down to plotting his future, what’s the reason to think it is going to be now and that it would happen here?

But the Blueshirts cannot afford to simply give away a valuable piece out of charity. You saw how their depth disintegrated during this run. Surely GM Chris Drury wouldn’t move Kakko for a second- or third-rounder or a prospect/suspect. That is not the mode this team should adopt.

I expect Kakko to be available and I would expect him to become part of a larger deal if one manifests. Four years and five seasons after the pingpong ball popped, it’s time to move on.

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