Chris Drury and the New York Rangers gave us a bit of a surprise yesterday, announcing the 1 year Kaapo Kakko contract through the 2024-2025 season. This wasn’t a surprise because of any pending trade or rumors, just the timing. Qualifying offers weren’t due yet, and we got news that the Kaapo Kakko contract was the exact amount of his qualifying offer. It’s tidy business by both Kakko and Drury, just surprising timing.

1. First for Kakko, this deal makes sense for him. He clearly had a down offensive year, where the concerns about his own offensive game–notably quick decision making and fluid puck movement–ran into some ill-timed horrid puck luck. Still, Kakko’s goal total was on par with his career best 18 set last season over an 82 game pace. It was his assist total that warps the line. We covered this in his report card.

Kakko knows he wouldn’t get much more than his $2.4 million qualifying offer in arbitration. Instead, he banked on himself, took a guaranteed dollar amount on a short term contract, and is using that to hopefully get paid on his next contract.

2. As for the Rangers, they know that at the very worst, they will get a 15 goal shutdown winger. Kakko is still one of the better defensive wingers in the game, and while it may not mean much for those still hanging onto the #2 overall pick stigma, it means something on the ice. Kakko is a very useful role player right now, and there’s reason to believe his point totals rebound next season with better puck luck (the team’s 4.76% shooting rate with Kakko on the ice was almost half what it normally is).

At best, the Rangers get a guy who can provide shutdown minutes while also contributing to tertiary offense.

3. Not to be lost in the Kaapo Kakko contract is the dollar amount. At $2.4 million for a third line winger, Kakko comes in at a relative bargain. It’s tough to put a dollar amount to defensive play, but if he rebounds to his 2022-2023 stat line, he’s instantly one of the better bargains in the NHL.

Teams win Stanley Cups with bargain scoring. For reference, Sam Bennett’s 40 points with Florida is coming with a $4.425 million cap hit. The Kaapo Kakko contract is almost half that with the potential for the same amount of points. That’s not to compare the two directly, it’s just a point of reference for scoring totals and contract size.

The dollar amount goes a long way in keeping enough cap space to potentially land a big time scoring RW.

4. There are some comments about wanting the Kaapo Kakko contract to be longer and trying to lock him up now before he breaks out. All very good ideas, coming with low risk, high reward type potential. Thing is, it takes two to tango. While we don’t know if Drury was open to it, it’s safe to assume Kakko was not. He was a dominant scorer in Finland, and he still has reason to believe he can do it in the NHL too.

5. Try to avoid missing the forest for the trees. The Kaapo Kakko contract is one tree in the forest that is the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. It’s low cost, low risk, high reward for a single season.

That said: It’s easier to trade a player under contract than one who is not, even those who are RFAs. Not saying the Kaapo Kakko contract was a necessity so they could trade him at the draft, so don’t misinterpret. I’m saying it’s easier to trade a player under contract. Kakko isn’t a must-keep, but he is a bargain player that may be able to help the Rangers land a bigger fish.

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