NHL free agency: Ranking the best defenseman options

Oct 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton (75) clears the puck during the second period of a game against the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Every offseason, talented unrestricted free agents hit the market in NHL Free Agency. The current crop of pending defensemen is a little thin.

Each NHL team has different needs to fill out their roster. In the offseason, general managers analyze the unrestricted free agent options to see who would fit with their team based on needs and what the organization can afford.

During the final season of a contract, players are aware that they’re under a microscope. How they played during the regular season and the playoffs if their team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs is pertinent when GMs are combing through the free agency market. Players can hurt their chances of a good deal by having a poor season or help their chances of a good deal with a strong season.

Some players hope to return to their current teams but end up as casualties of the salary cap. Sometimes notable players are taken off the board before free agency officially begins when they sign contract extensions with their current teams.

Free agency will begin on July 1st. This year’s list of UFA defensemen is on the thin side, but there are still some solid options for GMs to consider if their team is in need of defense.

Here are the top 10 NHL pending unrestricted free agent defensemen in 2023.

Top NHL UFA defenseman options: Honorable mentions

Kevin Shattenkirk (Age: 34), Nick Holden (Age: 36), Brian Dumoulin (Age: 31), Radko Gudas (Age: 33 on June 5th), Travis Hamonic (Age: 32)

Top NHL UFA defenseman options: 10. Connor Clifton

Age: 28
2022-23 team: Boston Bruins

Connor Clifton is a smart and mobile defenseman. He was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes (then the Phoenix Coyotes) but went unsigned. After playing four seasons of NCAA hockey with Quinnipiac University, Clifton signed with the Boston Bruins. He spent two seasons in the AHL and has played four seasons in the NHL. Clifton signed a three-year extension worth $3 million with the Bruins in 2019. He becomes a free agent this summer.

Certainly, Clifton had a longer road to get to the NHL than other players on this list. He may not be the most talented UFA defenseman, but Clifton is a scrappy, sharp-witted player. He’s likely one of the more affordable UFA defensemen available this summer, and the team he ends up playing for will gain Clifton’s gritty, aggressive style of play.

Clifton had a breakout year in 2022-23, making a big impact during the Bruins’ record-breaking 65-win season. He made 208 hits, blocked 120 shots, and had a +/- of 20. Although he hasn’t reached the offensive stats that a quality two-way defenseman puts up, his offensive production has improved as his play has matured. He had 23 points in the regular season.

During his exit interview in early May, Clifton made it clear that he wants to remain a Bruin. He loves playing with the Bruins and although contract talks hadn’t happened yet at that point, he expected the talks to start within the next few weeks. There’s a chance Clifton returns to the Bruins, but a poor playoff performance is the last image of him in the front office’s minds. That shouldn’t be a nail in the coffin, so we’ll see if Clifton stays in Boston or goes elsewhere.


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