Matt Nieto (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
The speedy left winger took a bit of a pay cut to stay in The Bay, but with San Jose tight up against the cap, there wasn't much of a choice. The 23-year-old now must go out and prove he's a long-term asset for the Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks have re-signed left winger Matt Nieto to a very affordable one-year contract and now the California native's job is to prove he warrants a bigger payday next summer.
Nieto will make $735,000 in 2016-17, a slight decrease from the cap hit on his entry-level deal ($759,166, though the annual average value was higher due to potential bonuses). With the Nieto contract, San Jose has less than $1 million in cap space remaining. Martin Jones is the only NHL goalie under contract, but signed backup options include Aaron Dell, Troy Grosenick and Mantas Armalis.
Nieto seems like the sort of player who will thrive in the current NHL. He's fast and his possession numbers were positive, even though he started just 24 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive end. He tallied 17 points in 67 games – so there is room for improvement there – and was hampered by injury, missing time in the playoffs as well.
But the Sharks are bullish on the 23-year-old.
"His quickness plays exactly into our team mentality," said GM Doug Wilson. "And we feel that he played some of his most effective hockey down the stretch during our playoff run this past season."
The mission now for Nieto is to go out and prove he deserves a more lucrative pact next summer. The Sharks will most likely have room, since the big contracts of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau come off the books, though Brent Burns will need a raise, too.
Nieto played bottom-six minutes this past season, actually seeing less ice time than the previous two campaigns. Part of that was because the Sharks were so deep, but consistency was an issue for Nieto, too. He was dangerous as a penalty-killer, so he does have value beyond points, but this is definitely a big season for the left winger.