The San Jose Sharks are bringing back another one of their free agent forwards, re-signing Matt Nieto to a two-year contract. The deal not only lets the team retain a valuable depth piece but also solves one of their expansion issues. Curtis Pashelka of The Mercury News reports that the contract will carry an average annual value of $850K. Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson released a short statement on the deal:
Matt brings a consistent, veteran presence to our line-up, and his speed and defensive awareness have made him a valuable part of our penalty-killing unit. Additionally, his ability to chip in offensively gives our coaching staff a versatile option in crafting our line-up from night to night.
Nieto, 28, is on his second stint with the Sharks, coming back to the team in 2020 after parts of four seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. He ended up playing just 28 of the team’s 56 games, but did add five goals and seven points in a limited role. Averaging exactly 14 minutes a night, he became a key part of the team’s 14th-ranked penalty kill and chipped in a little offensively.
More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Nieto also fills an exposure requirement for the upcoming Seattle Kraken draft. Every team must leave at least two forwards exposed that have played a certain number of games and are signed through the 2021-22 season. Up to this point, only Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc met that threshold, meaning there needed to be a pair of contracts issued by Wilson and his staff. One of them is Nieto, who will certainly be left unprotected next month. Of the other candidates—Dylan Gambrell, Marcus Sorensen, Patrick Marleau and Ryan Donato all meet the criteria—expect at least one more to be signed in the next few weeks.
The two-year term suggests that this wasn’t purely for the expansion draft though, as the Sharks obviously believe that Nieto can be an NHL player. While he did set a career-high of 15 goals just a few seasons ago, it seems more likely that he’ll be battling for a spot at the bottom of the roster in 2021-22.