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Kaapo Kakko’s Rangers future hinges more on Ryan Strome than Jack Hughes

So, no, The Post can report in the aftermath of 2019 first-overall Jack Hughes’ eight-year, $64 million contract extension No. 86 signed with the Devils on Tuesday that there have not yet been talks between the Rangers and 2019 second-overall Kaapo Kakko’s representatives regarding the Finn’s second contract.

As explained by an individual with knowledge of the process, both parties believe that it would be premature to in negotiations at this point. Hughes has had a prominent role in the lineup since the moment he arrived in New Jersey. Kakko is still feeling his way through his first season as a top-sixer.

The Rangers have not placed Kakko on a public pedestal and at the heart of a marketing enterprise the way the Devils have done with Hughes, and, mind you, at the very same that we in the media are constantly lectured about not placing too much focus and pressure on top draft choices.

The question has been raised on this side of the Hudson whether and what impact Hughes’ deal might have on Kakko’s next contract. Despite the proximity of their draft selections and geographical locations, I don’t believe there will be a direct cause-and-effect at play here, though Kakko’s primary stats aren’t as far off from Hughes’ as you might think.  

Indeed, Hughes at 20-35-55 in 120 games equates to .17 goals per game, .29 assists per and .46 points per while Kakko’s 22-24-46 in 130 contests checks in at .17 goals per, .18 assists per and .35 points per. At five-on-five, Hughes is 13-18-31 while Kakko is 16-12-28.

Jack Hughes contract Devils
Jack Hughes playing in the Devils’ loss to the Sharks on Tuesday after signing a $64 million contract extension.
AP

Be that as it may, the ability to sign the Finn to a second contract before restricted free agency and the corresponding specter of an offer sheet on July 13 might be impacted more so by what the Rangers do with Ryan Strome.

For The Post has learned that president-general manager Chris Drury and the pending unrestricted free agent center’s representatives have to in talks aimed at maintaining the Strome-Artemi Panarin connection well beyond this season.

Again. And again and again and again because this will drive every personnel decision Drury makes over the next five months: The cap squeeze the Rangers are facing beginning next year is consequential. Based on a projected $82.5 million cap, the club will have approximately a net $12.5 million of space with which to accommodate Kakko, a top-six center, a pair of top-nine wingers, a backup goaltender and another defenseman and depth forward. A year later, Alexis Lafreniere’s second contract will come due.

The Rangers, who entered Wednesday’s Garden match against the Flyers having gone 7-1 in their last eight, appreciate the value of the Strome-Panarin partnership that has evolved into a Bread-and-Butter thing and allows head coach Gerard Gallant, as David Quinn before him, to split Panarin and Mika Zibanejad and thus present pick-your-poison matchup choices to the opposition.

Kaapo Kakko Rangers
The Rangers have yet to discuss a new contract with Kaapo Kakko.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

So the Blueshirts would like to wrap up Strome, who will turn 29 in July and is completing a two-year deal under which he is earning an AAV of $4.5 million. On the market, perhaps No. 16 could attract a long term deal in the neighborhood of $5.5 million to $6 million per. He is 21st among NHL centers in points per game and ninth in assists per since the start of 2019-20.

But that’s probably going to be too pricey for the Blueshirts. This is me here, not a source, but somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million to $5.25 million per sounds more like it. It might represent somewhat of a discount, but four or five more years of partnering with Panarin might have significant appeal to Strome. It does to the Rangers.

So, OK, let’s put it in the books (Sorry, Howie) at $5 million per for Strome. That leaves a net $7.5 million for Kakko and the rest of the group. I believe you can wave goodbye to Patrik Nemeth at $2.5 million on the third pair after the season, so at least the Rangers would have a pool of around $10 million available.

Hughes is the first member of the Class of ’19 to sign a second contract. He, Kakko and Chicago’s third-overall Kirby Dach are the only ones to have played in at least 100 NHL games. So there aren’t going to be many comparables when the Rangers and Kakko get down to it.

Rangers Ryan Strome contract
The Rangers have contract talks with Ryan Strome.
NHLI via Getty Images

But five members of the preceding class are on their second deals. First-overall Rasmus Dahlin is earning an AAV of $6 million per; second-overall Andrei Svechnikov is at $7.75 million per; third-overall Jesperi Kotkaniemi is at $6,100,035 on his one-year, offer-sheet deal; fourth-overall Brady Tkachuk is at $8,330,674 per; and seventh-overall Quinn Hughes is in at $7.85 million per.

Gulp.

Just how big of a gulp is yet to be determined. But it will be defined not quite as much by Hughes’ second deal as by Strome’s future on Broadway.

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