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Colorado Avalanche Should Consider Keeping Matt Nieto

Matt Nieto

The Colorado Avalanche‘s role players have done excellent work this year. Matt Nieto is one of those players that has done well in limited usage. The veteran forward will be a free agent after the 2019-20 season but he might worth an extension considering his contributions to the team.

Avalanche Should Keep Matt Nieto

Nieto had another respectable year for the Avs in 2019-20. The 27-year-old winger scored eight goals and 21 points in 70 games while averaging 13:30 of ice time per contest. He led all Avalanche forwards in averaged short-handed time with 2:21 as well. The most impressive numbers behind all of Nieto’s production was his 51.9 Corsi For and 0.7 relative Corsi at even strength. He was often pressed into unfavourable situations with a 59.2 percent defensive zone start percentage but still managed to come out ahead in total possession.

Nieto also comes with a fairly low cost for what he produced as a bottom-six penalty killer. He had a cap hit of just $1.975 million in his second year of a two-year deal. He ultimately produced 34 goals and 81 points in 251 games since Colorado claimed him off waivers from the San Jose Sharks and signed him to two short-term deals since 2017. That is perfectly fine for someone who spends most of his time on defence and killing penalties.

The issue is that Colorado has plenty of young options for its penalty-killing units in 2021-21 and beyond. The team added forwards Shane Bowers, Sheldon Dries, Logan O’Connor and T.J. Tynan to the NHL roster as it travelled to Edmonton for the bubble restart and playoffs. All four of those possess potential as short-handed choices for next season and all would be much cheaper. Nieto won’t get a huge raise but he could command a cap hit in the neighbourhood of $2.5 million. Colorado has plenty of projected cap space this offseason but a flat cap of $81.5 million might force an uncomfortable salary casualty or two.

Where Nieto Fits if He Re-Signs

Colorado is deep enough that Nieto is nothing more than a fourth-liner if he stays with the Avalanche. However, that isn’t a bad thing considering the energy he brings. Nieto posted a 10.9 percent Corsi For while skating next to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, one of the other forwards often used to kill penalties. Being able to control even a tenth of short-handed ice time is a huge benefit to defencemen and the goaltender.

Nieto is also perfectly capable of supporting the team at even strength as well. Six of his eight goals and all 13 assists came at 5-on-5 this season. Nieto might have scored a tiny bit more in the regular season had the league not been forced to pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It might worth offering a one-year deal for 2020-21. That would give Colorado flexibility with its young bottom-six forwards and not force them into action before they are ready. It would probably mean fellow pending free agent Vladislav Namestnikov departs but that move would save just over $3 million.

Will Colorado Re-Sign Nieto?

Nobody knows exactly how the flat salary cap will affect 2020-21 yet. The top free agents like Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall and Torey Krug will get paid significant amounts regardless of the situation. The cap squeeze is far more important to players who might be in the middle of the market like Nieto. He won’t get a long-term deal wherever he signs; he fills his role well but penalty killers aren’t huge commodities in free agency.

Colorado easily represents the best combination of cap space and roster opportunity for someone like Nieto. He also has shown he can excel in the bottom-six and the Avs are turning into regular Stanley Cup contenders. The team has roughly $56 million in salary commitments on the current NHL roster going into 2020-21. That figure does not include players promoted for the playoff bubble or ones in the AHL. There should be enough to chase a premium free agent, re-sign a few key restricted free agents, and still have a few million left over for someone of Nieto’s calibre. The Avs do need to consider the 2021-22 off-season when Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar headline the team’s free agents but other players could be let go to compensate.


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