Steven Kampfer on Saturday will play in his third game this season, and for the first time in three weeks.
Such is life for the seventh defenseman on an NHL team. However, we could start to see that change a little bit over the coming days, and maybe weeks.
Kampfer will draw into the lineup against the Minnesota Wild on the third pairing in the place of Connor Clifton. In the previous two games Kampfer’s gotten into this season, it’s been over CLifton, with the first such instance seemingly being as a way for Bruce Cassidy to send Clifton a message. But now, it might be more for logistical reasons.
Based on his service time in the NHL, Clifton only has three more games he can play with Boston before he would be subject to waivers in order to get sent down to the AHL. With returns on the horizon for both Kevan Miller and John Moore, Clifton would be, in some capacity, an odd man out with everyone healthy. And while it’s fine to have a 31-year-old Kampfer getting healthy scratched regularly, there’s enough growth left in the 24-year-old Clifton’s game to justify sending him down to the AHL so he can play regularly and get big minutes.
The problem is, if Clifton were subject to waivers, another team in the league almost certainly would scoop him up. Over the offseason he signed a three-year extension that kicks in next season and is worth $1 million per year. Clifton might be a borderline NHL player right now, but he’s a bargain, can play on a third pairing for most any team in the league and has deep postseason experience. Someone like that doesn’t just sneak through waivers unclaimed.
If the Bruins start playing Kampfer over Clifton now in order to buy time until the return of either Moore or Miller, it will allow them to send Clifton down without fear of waivers. In such a case, if they ran into a bind like the one they’re in now with injuries on the blue line, they would have Clifton available for a callup, and then they would go from there in determining his future.
It was telling that in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Cassidy elected to go with Moore, who essentially was playing with one functioning shoulder, over Clifton. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that a healthy Moore (or Miller) would be moved or routinely out of the lineup just for the sake of keeping Clifton in the NHL.
The drop-off between Clifton and Kampfer is small, and playing the veteran over the youngster right now ultimately could help keep Clifton in the organization going forward. He has the ability to one day be an NHL mainstay, but not when Boston’s current group of defensemen are healthy.
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