With the Kaapo Kakko injury resulting in a pair of forward call ups already, the Rangers are gearing up for a long term injury. If the fears are true and Kakko is out for the season, then it’s a big blow to an already thin RW position for the Rangers, and fan theories are already pouring in.
There are a few things stopping the Rangers from making a big move. The first is themselves, as they have some internal options. The second is the cap, as they need to figure out their cap space. The third, and perhaps most important in managing the Kaapo Kakko injury, is other teams.
Review internal options first
Luckily for the Rangers, managing the Kaapo Kakko injury can come down to one of the many internal options they have at wing in Hartford. Jonny Brodzinski and/or Adam Edstrom are getting the first crack. Brodzinski is a known entity and a traditional AAAA player, but Edstrom is the unknown and a bit of a surprise call up.
Edstrom has played pro hockey already in Sweden, and didn’t look out of place in the SHL last season or in the AHL thus far this season. He’s not the flashy scorer that many hope for, but if he sticks he could help solidify the bottom-six. Edstrom is a center, which gives them more flexibility to move players around.
In the best case scenario, Edstrom sticks as the 4C, moving Barclay Goodrow back to the wing on the fourth line. In this scenario, Jimmy Vesey would likely move up to 3RW to replace Kakko.
The calls for Brennan Othmann were expected, but as of now it may make more sense to let him cook in Hartford. He’s come on strong of late, so there’s no need to ruin momentum and/or confidence by throwing him in a potential no-win situation. He may be an option down the line, but that the Rangers aren’t rushing him is a good thing.
Managing the Kaapo Kakko injury also means managing the cap
Even while reviewing internal options, managing the Kaapo Kakko injury also means managing the cap. We saw how the Rangers bungled their cap situation last season, resulting in some less than stellar days in March with a 15 man roster waiting for Patrick Kane. Lessons apparently were not learned.
While it’s nice to see the Rangers call up a kid with Brodzinski to potentially see who will stick, calling up two forwards seems counter productive. The Rangers are now carrying 14 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. That one extra body at forward is a lot, believe it or not.
It’s expected that the Rangers will put Kakko on LTIR when they take Adam Fox off LTIR tomorrow. LTIR rules are as clear as mud, but from what it sounds like, the Rangers won’t accrue cap space with their current roster construction. They can go over the cap by Kakko’s salary, but that money is being taken up by Brodzinski and Edstrom.
First things first, the Rangers need to trim the roster to 13 forwards. One spare is fine, two is unnecessary. From CapFriendly, the Rangers can go over the cap by the combined cap hits of players on LTIR. When Fox ($9.5 million) is off and Kakko ($2.1 million) is on, it reduces cap space from $8.5 million to $1.25 million.
The difference between Kakko’s $2.1 million and the $1.25 million is Edstrom’s $846,000 cap hit. So one of Edstrom or Brodzinski will need to be sent down, and quickly, to recoup as much cap space as possible.
Update: Kakko and Chytil are on LTIR, giving the Rangers more LTIR overage space.
Sending a defenseman to Hartford isn’t an option.
There may not be trades available yet
Managing the Kaapo Kakko injury also comes with the realistic scenario that the Rangers look to make a trade or sign a free agent. There aren’t many good free agents, with Phil Kessel’s one-dimensional play the only name to pop up thus far. Jesse Puljujarvi is interesting, but he’s anything from a sure thing.
The Rangers need a sure thing. Thus, they need to wait until the trade deadline. Cap space isn’t the issue this year, it’s player availability. Perhaps someone like Yanni Gourde becomes available, but that’s a few months away. Big trades like this don’t happen this early in the season.
The big wild card in managing the Kaapo Kakko injury is his own teammate. Filip Chytil’s injury status is still unclear, and he’s far from a guarantee to return any time soon. If he returns, it gives the Rangers a jolt. If not, then he’s likely going to LTIR and giving the Rangers more overage space to work with.
Best case scenario
The absolute best case scenario is Chytil finding a rhythm with Will Cuylle and whomever the internal 3RW winds up being, at least in the short term. That buys Chris Drury time in managing the Kaapo Kakko injury. This also means treading water and simply surviving until they’ve gone through all their options.
The Rangers have banked enough points that .500 hockey in the final 62 games gives them 93 points. This team is way too good, even with the injuries, to play .500 hockey. They have the time and the record to wait things out. They also have the team structure and defense to hopefully hold out while things work themselves out.
There is no good answer right now other than patience. The Rangers went 7-2-1 without Adam Fox and Filip Chytil. Now they have Fox returning and Kakko out. They can, and will, continue to win games.