Hockey

Kaapo Kakko Scratch: A Cautionary Tale for the Detroit Red Wings

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The New York Rangers recently healthy-scratched their young forward Kaapo Kakko before game 6 of their Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning would win the game by a score of 2-1. This is the only change that head coach Gerard Galant made after game 5. The Lightning has now advanced to their third straight Stanley Cup Final and will face off against the Colorado Avalanche.

Kaapo Kakko’s future with Rangers uncertain

Kakko signed a 3-year contract worth an average annual value of $3.575 million in July of 2019. This means that he will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. Kakko has been hampered by injuries during the 2021-22 NHL season, only playing in 43 games. In these 43 games, he scored 7 goals and totalled 18 points. In 19 games during the postseason Kakko added 2 goals and 3 assists. It could be argued that injuries played a part in him totalling the third-most points Kakko has scored in his young career.

It was not known whether or not Kakko had an injury at the time. It may come out in the future that he was dealing with some sort of injury at the time much in the same way that the center for the Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl reportedly had a high ankle sprain that he suffered during game 6 against the Los Angeles Kings. Despite this injury, Draisaitl scored 7 goals and 32 points in 17 playoff games played. Galant was not ready to discuss the move after the Rangers were eliminated.

Players playing with injuries and not telling the media about them is nothing new, especially when it comes to hockey. Injuries are often described as upper or lower-body. This is done so that the opposing team does not know where to target the player’s body. Some injuries are more apparent than others and thus can be targeted.

It is not known who will be the next head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. What general manager Steve Yzerman must decide is whether or not he wants a coach that will ride his players for not performing. I have previously written that former head coach of the Red Wings Jeff Blashill failed to develop players such as Michael Rasmussen and Filip Hronek. Rasmussen did play well enough towards the end of the season to dispel this a bit.

This move corresponded with Rasmussen moving from the center to the wing. This move comes at a crossroads for Rasmussen. If his play had not improved it was not a guarantee that his NHL career would continue. Moving to the winger role allows Rasmussen to have fewer responsibilities on the ice and rely on his talent. Rasmussen was drafted ninth overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft. At only 23 years old he has plenty of time to develop in this role.

One player that played well under Blashill, even though it was only for one season was defenseman Moritz Seider. Beyond scoring 7 goals and adding 43 assists in 82 games played during his rookie season, Seider did things on the ice that made you shake your head night in and night out. The Zell, Germany native is one of the candidates to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

No one expected Seider to be drafted where he was in 2019, but Yzerman has proven that he knew what he was doing in drafting him 6th overall. The fact that Seider is a Calder Trophy candidate is not to say that Seider did not make mistakes along the way. This is to be expected when it comes to a young player playing the most hockey he has played in his professional career in the best hockey league in the world.

The Red Wings have not been to the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2015-16 season. They have far to go when it comes to being on the same level as the Lightning are right now. The next head coach of the Red Wings has talented players playing in the minor leagues that could lead the team to another Stanley Cup. Yzerman said that Blashill had not let the Red Wings’ situation become a “complete sh-tshow.” The next coach of the Red Wings needs to build on the foundation of what Blashill has built.

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