Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Outlook: Kotkaniemi and Kakko Could Benefit From a Scenery Change Trade?

2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament - Finland v Sweden
2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament - Finland v Sweden / Dave Reginek/GettyImages
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The season of fun is almost upon us hockey fans! The summer is wild in the hockey world with player buyouts, the draft, trades, and of course free agency. The Carolina Hurricanes have a tall task ahead of them this summer with a large amount of players in need of contracts and a salary cap ceiling to worry about. Any salary cap relief is welcome for new general manager, Eric Tulsky.

I may have a creative solution to one of the Canes' conundrums this off-season. With the team needing as much money as possible to not only retain players but shop in free agency, the NHL buyout period is a good way to shed some immediate salary. One popular name for a buyout is Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

It has been a disappointing career for Kotkaniemi so far especially in Raleigh. Whether it was the way he was acquired(through an offer sheet) or the fact he signed a big contract, he has never lived up to the hype. Still at such a young age, buying him out cannot be the only option. Some organizations should be fond enough of his skill to take a chance for the right deal.

One player that fits a similar situation, more than you even think, is New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko. An underachieving top draft choice who has had plenty of opportunity at this level but is still young and can turn things around. The big difference between the two players is the salary. Let's break down the two players and how a swap would be quite even.

Kaapo Kakko

Kakko was drafted in 2019 by the New York Rangers with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Last season in 61 games, the Finnish forward scored 13 goals and 6 assists for an underwhelming 19 points. The 2022-23 season was his best with 40 points, 18 of them being goals. Sounding familiar?

At just 23 years old, Kakko has played in 300 NHL regular season games, while also participating in 44 playoff games. Only 9 points in those 44 postseason games. Kakko has never played big minutes in the playoffs for the Rangers with an average ice time of 12:32, which is well below his average ice time in the regular season of 14:32.

It has been difficult for the 6'2, 206 pound forward to live up to the potential in the bright lights of Broadway but has had moments where he seems to be breaking out.

After all this time and playing in many roles with tons of opportunities, the Rangers and their fans are growing tired and ready to accept that it was a failure of a top draft choice. Last season he played with a salary cap hit of $2.1 million and was a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Recently, he accepted a $2.4 million deal for one year with the Rangers. Truly a make-or-break season for the organization and the 23-year-old.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Kotkaniemi, also from Finland, was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2018 draft with the 3rd overall pick. Like Kakko, Kotkaniemi is just 23 years old and has tons of potential that peaks out from time to time.

The 6'2 (same as Kakko), 201-pound forward has had more drama than his counterpart in New York. Kotkaniemi had a phenomenal playoff run with Montreal that shot up his attraction around the league and Don Waddell signed him to a rare restricted free agent offer sheet. This was accepted and Kotkaniemi came to Raleigh and signed a contract paying him $4,082,000 a season till the 2029-30 season.

Certainly a risky contract from Waddell but he would look like a genius if Kotkaniemi reached his potential. Unfortunately, that has not happened and things are looking worse after last season registering just 12 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. His 2022-23 season was his career best with 18 goals and 25 assists but like Kakko has come down to earth this year.

In 398 career NHL games, Kotkaniemi has 161 points to Kakko's 117 points.

With all the numbers and comparisons put out, the two players are extremely similar and could turn around their careers, which is the biggest fear of any general manager when letting go of a former top draft choice.

The Rangers require salary cap space to pay some upcoming talent but are also looking for competitive secondary players to produce behind-the-tog "guns". Deprived of many draft choices in the future, the Rangers could use some draft capital in any trade with the Canes. The Canes have a solid amount of picks in the next draft which could help make up for the salary of Kotkaniemi.

Because of the commitment to Kotkaniemi, Tulsky would need to provide the Rangers draft capital and something towards Kotkaniemi's salary. In return, the Canes could give Kakko a chance to play in a different market and if it does not work out, his contract is just for one year.

The Rangers would be provided depth at center after more than likely losing Alex Wennberg to free agency. Kotkaniemi provides skill on special teams and a fresh start. He played under the pressure of Montreal at a young age and could thrive in the spotlight of the Big Apple.

Time will tell for these two youngsters but there are more options out there for Kotkaniemi than just buying out the contract.