Do you know the way to San Jose? Matt Nieto sure does. The depth forward found his way back to the San Jose Sharks as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, signing a one-year, $700K deal with the team that drafted him in 2011. Now Nieto is approaching UFA status once again and may end up staying where it all began. Kevin Kurz of The Athletic tweets that though the 28-year-old may not play again this season due to injury, the Sharks are interested in bringing him back “if the price is right.”
Even if he signs for the league minimum again Nieto would be getting a raise, as that number increases to $750K for the 2021-22 campaign. It hasn’t been a particularly productive season, with just five goals and seven points in 28 games, but when healthy he was a big part of the penalty kill. Nieto led all Sharks forwards in average shorthanded ice time this season at 2:46, just a few seconds behind team-leading Brent Burns (2:57). A reliable penalty killer for the league minimum is valuable, even if it doesn’t bring much excitement.
There is still some offensive upside in the veteran of 500 NHL games too. Nieto has recorded at least 21 points in five of his seven seasons before this shortened year and reached a career-high of 15 goals during 2017-18 with the Colorado Avalanche. This year’s goal-scoring rate would have actually taken him very close to that mark if kept up over 82 games, meaning he could be a bargain depth option for the Sharks come next season.
They’ll need that kind of bottom-of-the-lineup production if San Jose is to be competitive in 2021-22, as their cap continues to be strangled by expensive long-term contracts for aging veterans. If GM Doug Wilson is unable to shed any of those big-ticket deals, there isn’t a whole lot of change he can make to the roster. The Sharks already have nearly $68.5MM committed to next season for just 13 players and the salary cap is not expected to go up from the $81.5MM it was this year.