2023 NHL Free Agency, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs Have 2 Good Targets to Better the Bottom 6

In my most recent article, I wrote about two players that could help strengthen the Toronto Maple Leafs’ core. Well, today I am back with two players that can help strengthen the club’s bottom six. Based on what we knew about the Maple Leafs’ former general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas, he tried to improve it every season. It finally seemed that he had just the right combination of players this past season, but unfortunately, they were still ousted from the 2023 NHL Playoffs. Well heading into the 2023 offseason, the organization has a new voice at the helm, Brad Treliving, who was hired after the team let Dubas go. So now the question is, what will he do with the bottom six?

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If you look back at his time running the Calgary Flames, they had a traditional bottom six. They had a third line that could check and score, followed by a rough-and-tumble fourth line that consisted of both Brett Ritchie and Milan Lucic. It is safe that say that with all the unrestricted free agents (UFA) that the Maple Leafs have, there will be some changes before the puck drops on the 2023-24 season. So, let’s take a look at a few options that stand out as players who could help bolster the club’s bottom six.

Milan Lucic

As mentioned earlier, Treliving had Lucic on his team in Calgary, so it wouldn’t be a complete shock if he talks with his agent this offseason. However, bringing in Lucic could be a very smart plan for the organization. If you look at this past playoff run, there was an incident between Steven Stamkos and Auston Matthews that led to what was classified as a fight but was more like a wrestling match. Additionally, if you look back at other postseasons, you’ll see other teams taking liberties against Toronto’s top stars, but if you can add Lucic to the lineup, he can be the protector for the team’s top guns.

Milan Lucic Calgary Flames
Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The biggest reason to bring in a player like Lucic is to hold your opponents accountable, which it seems that Toronto again lacked. Lucic can also add some depth scoring, with 15-25 points per season, and can contribute a solid 10-12 minutes a night for the team. He also has experience winning, he was a part of the Boston Bruins team that beat the Vancouver Canucks in 2010 as well as the Bruins team that came back and beat the Maple Leafs in 2013. With his playoff experience, he can be a player to lean on in those moments.

Related: Flames: 3 Likely Free Agent Destinations for Milan Lucic

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He is also the type of player that commands respect, especially in the locker room, which is useful because you can never have enough leaders on your team to help when things get tough. Overall, Lucic is a style of player that will make him a fan favourite in the city. He could be a good fit for the Maple Leafs both on and off the ice on a cheap $1 million, one-year-style contract.

Phil Kessel

After last year’s trade deadline, it seems all of Leafs Nation was excited to see Luke Schenn back in the Blue and White, especially now that the team is a contender. It would most likely be the same to see Phil Kessel back with the Maple Leafs. During his time with the Maple Leafs, the team struggled and his relationship with the coaching staff depleted to the point that a trade out of town was inevitable. Kessel is someone who can be relied on to play in all 82 games. He is the ‘Iron Man’ of the NHL, with 1,064 consecutive games played, putting him atop the longest iron man streak in NHL history. Kessel would also be coming back to Toronto as a role player, not the face of the team like he was when he played there from 2009-2015. This should take the pressure off of him to just go out and play his game, contribute on the score sheet and get some second power play unit time.

Phil Kessel Vegas Golden Knights
Phil Kessel, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kessel should be able to give the Maple Leafs anywhere from 35-45 points playing the wing on the third line. As of right now, there are no players that are set in stone to play alongside him, however, if the Maple Leafs were able to bring back Ryan O’Reilly, he could slot in on a line with Kessel and potentially Nick Robertson or Matthew Knies. If he was able to produce at a higher rate than 35-45 points, he could even move up and be the third member of a line with John Tavares and one of Mitch Marner or William Nylander.

Related: Stars: 3 Potential Free-Agent Destinations for Max Domi

This is why Kessel would be a fantastic option for the club because, although he is 35 years old, he can still be a reliable secondary player who knows what it takes to win and knows the pressure that comes with the city of Toronto. If he and the Maple Leafs could get a deal done, it should be around $2 million over one year.

The Maple Leafs are in a very interesting spot this offseason. Their head coach Sheldon Keefe appears to be in limbo, and they need to worry about re-signing both Nylander and Matthews to an extension as of July 1, 2023. They also have 10 UFAs that include players like the aforementioned O’Reilly and Michael Bunting, as well as one restricted free agent (RFA) in Ilya Samsonov, who could be looking for a raise this offseason too. The organization will have around $20 million in cap space to work with, and a ton of decisions to make regarding the future of the team, which is why they should target some depth players who know what it takes to win like Lucic and Kessel.

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