Connor Clifton signed a three-year contract with the Buffalo Sabers worth $3.33 million per year.
Dom Luszczyszyn: When a smart organization does something in free agency that comes out a little higher than expected, it’s something to be suspicious of. The Sabers have certainly qualified for it lately, and it makes me a little more intrigued with Clifton, a defender who seems more like someone worth $2 million than $3.33 million.
Clifton has had solid numbers for Boston in a protected role, and at that price, the question is if he can sustain that in a bigger role. That’s always the big question for third-pair analytics darlings, especially small ones, and the sword has been burned before by genre (cough, Colin Miller, cough). But seeing how well Miller did in Dallas in a bigger role suggests that it may have more to do with who he played for (cough, Ralph Krueger, cough) than anything else. The Sabers are better positioned at this point under Don Granato to take advantage of a player like Clifton, who fits the profile of a player who can jump into the lineup.
According to data tracked by Corey Sznajder, Clifton is very good at creating chances offensively, getting shots through the ice, and can move the puck well out of penetration. Clifton has progressed well over the past few seasons in those areas, but he’s prone to The Big Mistake and doesn’t struggle with rush defense. This is where the stakes lie, but Buffalo deserves credit here and Clifton fits a need on the Sabers’ blue line.
Contract degree: c +
appropriate grade: a-
Mark Lazerus: Buffalo is making a concerted effort to bolster its heavy, skill-packed blue line with the signings of Eric Johnson and Clifton. Clifton is a solid, if not spectacular, two-man, and the veterans should lighten the defensive load on Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Bauer. The cost here is a bit high for the Sabers, but they had plenty of room to burn and needed to be filled.
The question is, what could Clifton do in a different role, on a different team? The arrival of Dmitry Orlov at the trade deadline cut short his role, but Clifton has been strong in a carefully orchestrated role for most of the regular season. Of course, just like playing on a bad team can degrade a defenseman’s analytics, playing on one of the all-time best regular season teams can make a defenseman look better than he really is. So we’ll have a much better idea of what Clifton is now.
Clifton would inevitably face more transfer rushes at Buffalo than he did at Boston, and could be exposed in an even bigger role. Granato retrained in the American Development Program, so it’s possible he’s a believer.
Contract degree: B-
appropriate grade: b +
(Photo by Connor Clifton: Eric Hartline/USA Today)
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