BRIGHTON, MA – Connor Clifton knows that a breakthrough hockey season for him in many, many ways ended on a sour note for the Boston Bruins.
One of the many second-guesses of Jack Adams’ finalist Jim Montgomery’s choices in the playoffs was inserting Clifton back into the series in Game 6 in favor of puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk along Boston’s back end. Clifton was a disaster n Game 6 with a minus-3 rating that included turnovers leading directly to Florida Panthers goals, and it punctuated the scoreless, minus-4 performance that he put up in three games while averaging 14:39 of ice time.
Connor Clifton gives it right up and the Panthers capitalize on the Bruins' mistakes. pic.twitter.com/IVDiYCVmPB
— Patrick Donnelly (@PatDonn12) April 29, 2023
“Obviously, I wish I had done a lot better of a job,” said Clifton, when asked about the playoffs. “Especially having fresh legs because I got to rest [in games] 3-5. Looking back on it now, I wish obviously it went differently.
“I wish I could come in there with those fresh legs and impact the game in a good way, get that win and close out that series. That’s not how sports work all the time. So, I’m pretty disappointed in how that game went for me personally. I guess you move forward, right?”
It didn’t completely wipe out what the 28-year-old did during the regular season posting career highs in goals (five), points (23) and games played (78) while proving he could be pretty close to an everyday NHL defenseman. Clifton and Derek Forbort forged a great identity as physical, gritty bottom pair partners that could also bring a little offense to the table over the last few seasons.
Unfortunately for Clifton, the season might have also priced him out of any possible chance of returning to the Boston Bruins given the money tied up in Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm along with Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and Forbort signed for next season, and Mason Lohrei on the rise as a defenseman prospect.
Clifton could easily be on track to get a new free agent deal in the $3 million plus range per season based on his improvement, his rugged style of play and his solid durability at the position. That is not the kind of money the salary cap-strapped Boston Bruins are going to be able to give him, however.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder Quinnipiac product is definitely due a big raise coming off a three-year, $3 million contract that made him extremely valuable to the Black and Gold as a bargain basement NHL defenseman. He also still harbors hope that the Bruins want him back as Clifton said he had an encouraging conversation with Bruins general manager Don Sweeney during his exit meetings.
“That’s right. It’s a privilege to put on that crest and to compete with guys around this room. It’s something I’ll never take for granted,” said Clifton, when asked if his preference is to stick with the Bruins. “I love it here. Me and Sweens [Don Sweeney] had a good talk this morning in our meeting. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
Still, Clifton didn’t have any contract extension talks with the Bruins during the walk year of his contract, and generally that hasn’t boded well for impending free agents on the B’s in the recent past.
“No, not really. I was hoping to do that in late June, honestly,” said Clifton, referencing possibly signing a contract with the Bruins after a run to the Stanley Cup. “Obviously, with the early departure, there’s a lot more time for that in the coming weeks, but no, haven’t talked too much about it yet.”
It remains to be seen if there will be much talking between the Bruins and Clifton, but either way Cliffy Hockey has left a lasting impression with the Black and Gold