Why Kaapo Kakko’s immediate Rangers future isn’t in doubt

The Rangers’ decision to scratch restricted free agent Kaapo Kakko in Game 6 of the conference final against the Lightning last month has focused all eyes on the Finnish winger this offseason.

As expected, Kakko received a qualifying offer, which is calculated from the players’ base salary, of $832,500 from the Rangers. A qualifying offer gives the prior organization the right of first refusal to match any offer sheet submitted, or receive draft-pick compensation.

There’s no reason, however, to read into the fact that an extension wasn’t agreed upon before the free-agent market opened Wednesday.

“It isn’t trying to play a cat-and-mouse game, it’s just the rhythm of reacting to the schedule,” Kakko’s agent, Mike Liut, told The Post. “You have to fit the pieces in, but you’ll get to it. There’s no serious urgency with group two [restricted free agents], so they get pushed a little bit down the line when they don’t have arbitration rights.”

Though circumstances are always subject to change, there aren’t any anticipated issues or an offer sheet that would get in the way of Kakko re-upping on a two-year deal. There is an understanding that two years are the most the Rangers could offer under their current salary-cap situation, and an understanding that both sides are going to go through the motions.

Kaapo Kakko
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Because the Rangers signed Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year deal at $5.625 million per season to be their No. 2 center, they don’t have the space to take on a big contract in a trade that would require a heap of assets. But by trading Patrik Nemeth and a couple of draft picks to the Coyotes on Wednesday, general manager Chris Drury now has more cap space to work with to sign Kakko. The next major reset, if there is one, likely will come at next season’s trade deadline.

“We think the world of [Kakko] and we want him here for a long, long time,” Drury said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “I’m not too worried about getting him into the fold soon.”

At the moment, there isn’t any reason to believe Kakko being scratched in Game 6 was detrimental to his future with the Rangers. All it did was reveal where the 21-year-old winger is at: still developing and working to establish himself on a roster filled with immense skill.

“I understand that teams make decisions, and they don’t always fall your way,” Liut said. “They can be right or they can be wrong. But that’s their province to make those decisions, and I thought Kaapo managed it exactly that way. Certainly didn’t like it, didn’t understand it. Isn’t ever going to agree with it. But he’s got to accept it.

“With young players, you’re always looking for a little bit of adversity and a little bit of how they’re going to handle it. What their reaction is. It’s not that you want to see it happen, but it does give you some insight into their inner thinking. It’s not that it’s masked in other moments, but you can’t hide that. That’s a visceral moment.

“Kaapo was more matter-of-fact about it. He wasn’t emotional about it. It’s done, it’s behind you, it happens, things happen. Decisions are made.”

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