Examining Bridge Contract for Young New York Rangers Forward

Kaapo Kappo Contract
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The initial flurry of free agency has slowed to a trickle, but there’s still plenty to talk about. News has now shifted to talk about restricted free agents and their next move. Some of these players sign medium or long-term deals. However, most sign bridge deals of two to three years as “prove it” contracts. One of those younger players is Kaapo Kakko. Today, we look at a Kaapo Kaako contract with the New York Rangers.

Examining how long and how much money the contract could bring. This article also looks at how the other Rangers’ restricted free agents may play into Kakko’s next deal.

NHL free agent frenzy

Looking at a Possible Kaapo Kakko Bridge Contract

Background

The young Finn was sensational in his draft year of 2019. He played well at the IIHF World Juniors and IIHF World Championships for his native country. Kakko was taken second by the Rangers and added to a then already deep prospect pool for the rebuilding Blueshirts. However, his first season in North America was a struggle.

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The Turku, Finland native did score a career-high 10 goals that season, but his defensive issues were glaring. He seemed to be struggling with change over from Europe to the NHL. The 6-foot-3-inch forward did play a lot of hockey between his SM-Liiga club TPS, the national team in two tournaments and the Rangers. One could argue he was fatigued from so much hockey.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and Kakko looked better in the qualifying round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Year two saw him tighten his game up in his own end, but the Rangers missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs entirely.

The pivotal third year saw him become even better on defence and carve out a place in the lineup. He became part of the Kid Line with fellow youngsters Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil. That line was arguably the best line for New York during their run to the Eastern Conference final.

However, Kakko’s postseason run didn’t end well as he was a healthy scratch for Game 6 in their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant went with Dryden Hunt instead of Kakko.

Where We’re At

Kakko’s Side

For a second overall pick, Kakko’s goal-scoring has been underwhelming. However, he’s been a hard-working winger that has upped his game on defence. His Corsi for is at a 52.5 over his three-year NHL career with a relative Corsi of 6.8. Defence hasn’t been a problem for him since that bad start in the league.

Gallant said nothing personal was meant but the scratch and it’s seemingly motivated the 21-year-old. Kakko has always been wiling to improve and took steps when paired with Lafreniere and Chytil last season.

Kakko did only score seven goals in the 2021-22 campaign, but he did net two goals in the post-season. His play with Lafreniere and Chytil drew solid reviews and gave Blueshirts fans a sense of optimism about the future.

The Rangers Side

New York does have some cap headaches to worry about at the moment. The Rangers did extend Kakko a one-year qualifying offer, but there’s hope they can pin him down for a two or three-year deal. General manger Chris Drury has $4.8 million in cap space to work with a Kakko is the only RFA left on his team.

New York was hoping to find a way to bring back unrestricted free agent Tyler Motte, but that would take some fancy footwork by Drury to bring back the bottom-six forward. The Rangers would be super tight against the cap thanks to big contracts like the ones Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Jacob Trouba have.

Drury also has to worry about the future as RFAs K’Andre Miller, Chytil and Lafreniere all have their deals come up. All of those players will likely be seeking raises next season. There’s also the fear of an offer sheet from someone else. Kakko wasn’t offer sheeted, but there was always a fear that some team would do that.

What Next

The young forward is not arbitration eligible, so the Rangers have the leverage in this situation. There’s also the fact Kakko wants to prove that he is going to find his game. Let’s keep in mind that he’s still 21 and not everyone hits the NHL scene in blazing fashion. It took Jack Hughes a while to find himself, but injuries have also derailed him.

There’s still time for Kakko to become the player that he was hyped up to be. He has put up some highlight reel goals in his past and the right linemates can help his game out. Breaking out the “Bust” label would be premature.

As for the Kaapo Kakko contract, an educated guess would be two or three years at $2-3 million would be the deal Kakko signs. It would be the prototypical prove-it contract, but he seems ready to live up to the name of that deal.