Nieto believes Sharks can undergo Avalanche-like turnaround originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Just like Patrick Marleau, Matt Nieto is back for another go-around with the Sharks. And just as it was for Marleau, the decision to sign up for another season in teal was a fairly easy one for the Long Beach native.
"Definitely an unusual free agency this year," Nieto told reporters Tuesday via video conference. "Didn’t know what to expect going into it, but my agent let me know that San Jose was interested, and it was kind of a no-brainer for me. Obviously, I loved my time in San Jose when I was there, from the fans to the staff and to the players. There’s still a number of players that I played with that are there now and that I have good relationships with. I’m excited to meet the rest of the guys and compete and go to war with these guys this year."
Nieto spent the first three-plus seasons of his career with the Sharks after being drafted by them in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and was a member of the only team in San Jose franchise history to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But the following season, he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a move that he still appreciates.
“It was a favor, for sure," Nieto said. "At that point, I wasn’t playing a lot of games and all I wanted to do was play games. So, [Sharks general manager] Doug (Wilson) gave me that opportunity and I found a home in Colorado for a few years, and I loved my time there. When I came to the decision to go back to San Jose, like I said, I have good relationships with Doug, with everyone that I was involved with there, so it was really a simple decision for me.”
Nieto explained that he knows his role in the lineup will be determined by the type of training camp he has, but it would seem like a good bet that, at the very least, he'll be a major contributor on the penalty kill. He played that role in his previous stint with the Sharks, and to an even larger degree during his time with the Avalanche.
“We had the best penalty kill in the league last year, and that’s really an important part of our game," Wilson added. "And without Barclay (Goodrow) and Melker Karlsson being here, we needed someone that’s familiar that can do that job. Matty can do that job, and he does it in a way with speed. We want to get faster as a group, also.
“One of the other things I really liked about Matty was, when he went to Colorado, they went through a resurgence. … They got back to details, they brought a new coach in and they really turned it around pretty quickly. So, his experience is not only with us in the 2016 Stanley Cup run, but what he went through in Colorado, he can share that also."
The Avalanche finished dead last in the league in Nieto's first season with the team. But in the three seasons since, they've qualified for the playoffs each time and established themselves as a legitimate Cup contender. He believes the Sharks, who just finished dead last in the Western Conference, could produce a similar kind of turnaround.
"Yeah, it’s very possible," Nieto said. "Obviously, last year wasn’t a year the Sharks wanted to have. But similar to Colorado, you look at lineups that they had and there’s no reason why it can’t be a successful team. So, I’m really excited to be a part of the turnaround. It’s going to start in a couple months here, and it could be a short season, so I think it’s important that we get off to winning habits right off the bat. We’ll see what happens, but I’m really excited for the opportunity."