After three days of unofficial reports, the Sharks officially announced Matt Nieto’s one year contract on Monday afternoon. It sounds like the initial report was true with Nieto getting a one-year deal worth just $735,00 on a one-way contract.
Nieto is the kind of player that frustrates fanbases because his combination of speed and solid possession don’t turn into the point totals we’re looking for. Whether it’s Torrey Mitchell, Tyler Kennedy or now Nieto, it seems hockey fans don’t believe a player that doesn’t score much can still be quite useful.
Nieto scored 17 points last season at the lowest points per game mark of his career (.25 vs. a career .33). That caused his stock to fall among Sharks fans, who ranked Nieto as just the ninth-best San Jose player under 25. Here’s my defense of Nieto, a perfectly solid bottom-six forward.
It starts with a basic concept: A successful NHL team can not be built solely of top six forwards and top pairing defenders. I know that sounds obvious, but fans often hold bottom-line players to standards that just don’t make sense. Yes, everyone wants more Sidney Crosby’s and Joe Thorntons on their team ... but there’s only so many of those out there.
To build a successful team in the salary cap era, you’ll need to find good value in players that have holes in their game. One player may be a great scorer but doesn’t play defense, another might get in the way of a lot of shots but doesn’t do well on the forecheck. Every player has flaws and the difference between a great player and a fine one often boils down to the quantity of flaws.
So the bar we need to hold Nieto to is this: Does he fulfill the requirements of his role? If not, can he be assigned to a new role? Or is he simply not good enough to stay on the NHL roster? Nieto’s role on the Sharks is to be a bottom-six winger — he’s likely to play on the fourth line next season, in my opinion.
He played 285 minutes with Joel Ward and Patrick Marleau, the longest he spent on the ice with any two forwards. While with Ward and Marleau he posted a 55.82 adjusted corsi-for percentage, per corsica.hockey. Here are his top four forward combos:
Breaking news: Player is better when on the ice with better teammates. His results with Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney, both of whom are at best fourth-line players in my opinion, aren’t great. However, it appears that Tierney is the drag on possession on that line in admittedly an extremely small sample size. Looking at Nieto’s HERO Chart gives a good approximation of his quality level as a player:
His scoring is fourth-line level while his possession play is closer to a third-liner making him a sort of tweener in the bottom six. When playing with a skilled center, Nieto helps the Sharks even when his name doesn’t appear on the scoresheet.
No, Nieto is probably not going to be an elite scorer but that’s not what we should expect from him. Nieto needs to help the Sharks’ possession game while playing bottom-six minutes, something he’s shown capable of doing in three seasons with San Jose. Given the deal Nieto just got, it would be unfair of us to expect much more.