Kakko Benched: Rangers break up “Kid Line” in heartbreaking Game 6 loss to Tampa

Kaapo Kakko - Rangers
Kaapo Kakko (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
AP Photos

Gerard Gallant and the New York Rangers made had gotten to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to excellent play from their “Kid Line.”

Whether it was Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, the Rangers “Kid Line” beat up on Pittsburgh, shocked Carolina, and had the two-time defending champion, Lightning, on the ropes. 

Yet before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Gallant made a decision that went against everything that had gotten the Blue Shirts to that point. 

Kaako was benched in favor of Dryden Hunt before the game in a surprise move.

In the end, the change didn’t effect the recent outcome of the series as Tampa won Game 6, 2-1, and is heading to their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final. After falling behind in the series 2-0, the Lightning won the last four contests. 

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, center, celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers with Jan Rutta, right and Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, left, during the second period in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

So while the Rangers can gladly cheer to what was an excellent season and surprisingly deep playoff run, the questions will be asked for the entirety of the offseason.

What are the Rangers going to do with Kaapo Kakko?

Kakko’s future in New York

The former second overall pick in 2019, Kakko is a restricted free agent this off-season and his benching only complicates exactly what the Rangers will do.

Injuries have derailed what was expected to be a strong career for Kakko. The 20-year old has only played in 91 regular season games over the last two years. 

The “Kid Line” of Lafreniere, Kakko and Chytil was instrumental in getting the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the five games against the Lightning in this series, the line outscored their opponents, 3-0, and have a 58.48 expected goals percentage. 

There also wasn’t statistical evidence that the Kind Line wasn’t working as opposed to others on the Rangers squad. Over the last four games of the Lightning series, the Rangers had one even strength goal. 

When asked after the game, Gallant refused to comment on the decision saying “”I’m not going to talk about it. Now is not the time.”

Even with Gallant not commenting on the decision, Kakko’s benching muddies up a difficult offseason in what to do with the former second overall pick. 

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) congratulates Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper after the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers during Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

While a deep playoff run in the first year of Gallant’s tenure in New York is impressive, the way it ended will only open up more questions in regards to their young star. The “Kid Line” was impressive throughout the postseason, but now it’s longevity is already in question. 

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