For the next eight days, we’ll take a look at the eight unrestricted free agents for the Boston Bruins and whether or not they will return to play with the Bruins in the 2023-24 regular season or beyond.
Let’s start with the UFA’s on the blue line for the Boston Bruins and specifically today, 28-year-old defenseman Connor Clifton.
Since signing a professional contract with the Providence Bruins (AHL), back in August, 2017 after four seasons at Quinnipiac University, Connor Clifton has worked his way up the organizational depth chart and become a serviceable bottom pairing NHL defenseman. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $725,000 prior to the 2018-19 season. Clifton had two goals and an assist in 50 regular season games over that contract but stepped up as a physical and more offensive threat in the 2019 and 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Clifton had two goals and three assists in 18 games during the Bruins’ run to Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and then had a goal and two assists in eight games during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Clifton parlayed that into a three-year, $3 million contract ($1M AAV), prior to the shortened 2020-21 regular season. Since then, the Matawan, New Jersey native has eight goals and 32 assists and is coming off a career high in goals with five and assists with 18 helpers in 78 games. However, Clifton’s playoff performance over the course of his second NHL contract left did leave a lot to be desired. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound rearguard didn’t register a point in ten games during the 2021 and three games in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, and had a goal and an assist in two games during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Thanks to new head coach Jim Montgomery setting him free after five seasons on a leash with former Boston Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy, Connor Clifton had a phenomenal regular season in his walk year. However, he seemed to fall out of favor with Montgomery down the stretch run. Obviously, the acquisition and emergence of Dmitry Orlov played a role in that, but when given the chance to answer the bell in the Bruins’ seven-game first round loss to the Florida Panthers, quite frankly, Clifton failed.
One game shouldn’t make a difference but the 28-year-old Clifton had arguably the worst game of his career in a 7-5 loss for the Boston Bruins in Game 6. Clifton had no points and was a minus 3 with a costly turnover in 13:22 TOI in that game that paved the way for the Game 7 loss that capped off a blown 3-1 series lead for the Bruins.
In his final media availability on May 2, Clifton indicated that contract talks hadn’t really begun in earnest yet.
“No, not really. I was hoping to do that in late June, honestly,” he told reporters. “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.”
He also indicated that he would love to remain a Bruin.
“That’s right. I love it here,” Clifton said. “Me and ‘Sweens’ had a good talk this morning in our meeting. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
The read here is that despite that game and his playoff no-shows, Clifton’s career season has boosted his value on the unrestricted free agent market bit not necessarily out of the Bruins’ price range. It’s more a matter of if they want him back or they decide to filter in a young defenseman like would-be rookie Mason Lohrei. Either way, Clifton turned out to be a smart signing by Sweeney and a solid job by former Boston Bruins amateur scouting guru and current director of player personnel Scott Fitzgerald.