Bruins: 3 Potential Free-Agent Destinations for Connor Clifton

The Hockey Writers

The Boston Bruins have several pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) and very limited cap space to work with. As a result of this and no contract talks yet, there is a decent chance that defenseman Connor Clifton has played his last game as a Bruin. The 28-year-old put together a breakout season at the perfect time and is due for a notable raise because of it. In 78 games, he set new career highs with five goals, 18 assists, 25 points, 208 hits, and a plus-20 rating.

If the Bruins are unable to bring back Clifton, the gritty defenseman should receive a good amount of interest in free agency. As a result, let’s discuss three clubs who could be in the mix for his services this summer.

Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings will be aiming to sign right-shot defensemen this offseason. The right side of their defensive group took a major hit after they traded Filip Hronek (for an excellent return), and there are rumblings that Gustav Lindstrom could be heading overseas. Therefore, it would not be surprising in the slightest if the Red Wings are one of the teams who pursue Clifton this offseason.

Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins
Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When looking at Detroit’s lineup, it is fair to argue that Clifton would be a great addition to their bottom pairing. However, if they wanted to move Ben Chiarot back to the left side, it would also open the door for Clifton to play second-pairing minutes. With that, Clifton would immediately become one of their top penalty killers due to his reliable defensive play and overall aggressiveness.

The Red Wings are entering the offseason with over $30 million of cap space and all of their notable players already under contract. Therefore, they have more than enough money to bring in Clifton on a multi-year deal if they wish to.

New Jersey Devils

The 2022-23 season was a massive step in the right direction for the New Jersey Devils. After years of mediocrity, the Devils proved that they are legitimate contenders in 2022-23, putting together a 52-22-8 record. Although the postseason did not go the way that they had hoped, they are heading in the right direction and should be busy this summer because of it. When noting that right-shot defenseman Damon Severson is likely heading to the free-agent market this offseason, the Devils could look to bring in Clifton at a much more affordable cap hit.

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The right side of the Devils’ defensive group is quite impressive, as it has Dougie Hamilton and John Marino in its top four. This led to Severson, a fellow top-four defenseman, receiving bottom-pairing minutes for much of this season. With Severson due for a raise, it would make sense for the Devils to bring in a cheaper but also effective option in Clifton for the role. He would provide their defensive group with much more physicality if signed and also be a key component of their penalty kill.

Related: Bruins’ 2023 Free-Agent Targets: Edmonton Oilers

The Devils have over $34 million of cap space to work with this summer but also several free agents to re-sign. However, when noting that Clifton, a New Jersey native, seems like a great fit for them on paper, don’t be surprised if they send him an offer this summer.

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders are another club who could make sense as a free-agent destination for Clifton. Fellow right-shot defenseman Scott Mayfield is a pending UFA, and Clifton would be an excellent replacement for him if he decides to walk. With that, Clifton plays a hard-nosed game, and that fits into the identity of the Islanders.

New York Islanders Celebrate
New York Islanders Celebrate a Goal (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Islanders signed Clifton, he would be an immediate option for their bottom pairing with Sebastian Aho. However, Clifton also displayed this season that he can take on top-four minutes on occasion, so he would also be in the running to play on New York’s second pairing with Alexander Romanov. In either scenario, the Islanders would improve the right side of their defensive group by adding Clifton.

The Islanders are heading into the offseason with a little over $5 million of cap space, but they also do not have many notable pending free agents. Therefore, if they prioritize Clifton as a free-agent target, he could certainly be a fit to join the Islanders.

It will be interesting to see if the Bruins can find a way to keep Clifton around this offseason. However, if he decides to test the free-agent market after his career year, these three teams should make a push to sign him.

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