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Matt Nieto Is Biggest UFA Bargain So Far in Free Agency



Matt Nieto, San Jose Sharks
Credit: mark6mauno (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Free agency is a week old — and the best contract so far might be Matt Nieto’s.

That is, according to one key way to measure Idriss Bouhmouch of The Hockey Code and Sam Forstner’s complete 2020 free agency contract projections:

Free Agency Projections by Term 2020

In their projections, Bouhmouch and Forstner proposed cap hits for every possible contract term, from one year to eight years. So for example, they had projections for Alex Pietrangelo’s contract from one season to the maximum.

What does this have to do with the San Jose Sharks and Nieto?

Let’s look at the top-41 signed unrestricted free agents — by Bouhmouch and Forstner’s Projected Cap Hit — along with Actual Cap Hit and the Actual Cap Hit % of the Projected Cap Hit. These are all players who were expected to make at least over a million or more on a one-year deal:

TeamPositionTermProjected Cap HitActual Cap HitDifferenceProjected Cap Hit %
Justin SchultzWSHD2$2,852,300.00$4,000,000.00$1,147,700.00140.2%
Mark BorowieckiNSHD2$1,584,600.00$2,000,000.00$415,400.00126.2%
Ryan ReavesVGKW2$1,441,068.00$1,750,000.00$308,932.00121.4%
Zemgus GirgensonsBUFC3$1,840,934.00$2,200,000.00$359,066.00119.5%
Tyler PitlickARIC2$1,523,273.00$1,750,000.00$226,727.00114.9%
Cody EakinBUFC2$2,007,695.00$2,250,000.00$242,305.00112.1%
Taylor HallBUFW1$7,414,186.00$8,000,000.00$585,814.00107.9%
Mattias JanmarkCHIC1$2,112,529.00$2,225,000.00$112,471.00105.3%
Dylan DeMeloWPGD4$2,862,727.00$3,000,000.00$137,273.00104.8%
Chris TanevCGYD4$4,641,712.00$4,500,000.00-$141,712.0096.9%
T.J. BrodieTORD4$5,199,169.00$5,000,000.00-$199,169.0096.2%
Alex PietrangeloVGKD7$9,783,451.00$8,800,000.00-$983,451.0089.9%
Andrej SekeraDALD2$1,668,353.00$1,500,000.00-$168,353.0089.9%
Brenden DillonWSHD4$4,371,676.00$3,900,000.00-$471,676.0089.2%
Kevin ShattenkirkANAD3$4,496,381.00$3,900,000.00-$596,381.0086.7%
Zach BogosianTORD1$1,160,267.00$1,000,000.00-$160,267.0086.2%
Erik GustafssonPHID1$3,552,402.00$3,000,000.00-$552,402.0084.4%
Evgenii DadonovOTTW3$5,988,375.00$5,000,000.00-$988,375.0083.5%
Joel EdmundsonMTLD4$4,331,693.00$3,500,000.00-$831,693.0080.8%
Derek ForbortWPGD1$1,246,680.00$1,000,000.00-$246,680.0080.2%
Johan LarssonARIW2$1,751,840.00$1,400,000.00-$351,840.0079.9%
Torey KrugSTLD7$8,211,332.00$6,500,000.00-$1,711,332.0079.2%
Craig SmithBOSC3$4,010,178.00$3,100,000.00-$910,178.0077.3%
Derek GrantANAC3$1,951,438.00$1,500,000.00-$451,438.0076.9%
Kyle CliffordSTLW2$1,350,828.00$1,000,000.00-$350,828.0074.0%
Wayne SimmondsTORW1$2,036,671.00$1,500,000.00-$536,671.0073.6%
Radko GudasFLAD3$3,446,121.00$2,500,000.00-$946,121.0072.5%
Tyler ToffoliMTLC4$5,870,328.00$4,250,000.00-$1,620,328.0072.4%
Justin BraunPHID2$2,534,219.00$1,800,000.00-$734,219.0071.0%
Jesper FastCARW3$2,955,303.00$2,000,000.00-$955,303.0067.7%
Patrick MarleauSJSC1$1,063,058.00$700,000.00-$363,058.0065.8%
Trevor van RiemsdykWSHD1$1,278,432.00$800,000.00-$478,432.0062.6%
Tyson BarrieEDMD1$6,156,381.00$3,750,000.00-$2,406,381.0060.9%
Jonathon MerrillDETD1$1,530,103.00$925,000.00-$605,103.0060.5%
Mark PysykDALD1$1,266,837.00$750,000.00-$516,837.0059.2%
Vladislav NamestnikovDETC2$3,420,653.00$2,000,000.00-$1,420,653.0058.5%
Jimmy VeseyTORW1$1,560,249.00$900,000.00-$660,249.0057.7%
Tyler EnnisEDMC1$2,106,442.00$1,000,000.00-$1,106,442.0047.5%
Pat MaroonTBLW1$1,909,765.00$900,000.00-$1,009,765.0047.1%
Matthew NietoSJSW1$1,883,207.00$700,000.00-$1,183,207.0037.2%
Joe ThorntonTORC1$2,377,816.00$700,000.00-$1,677,816.0029.4%

A few things stand out:

  • Nieto, who signed a one-year, $700K contract with the San Jose Sharks on Monday, is making just 37.2 % of Bouhmouch and Forstner’s Projected Cap Hit. That’s the smallest percentage of a Projected Cap Hit out of the top-40 signed UFAs, and by a wide margin. Now that’s a bargain. (UPDATE: Joe Thornton’s one-year, $700K deal with Toronto, announced this afternoon, comes in at 29.4 % of the Projected Cap Hit.)
  • Of course, the big story of free agency is how the middle class has been crushed. 32 of the top-41 signed UFAs will be making less than Bouhmouch and Forstner’s Projected Cap Hits, some significantly less, like Nieto. This isn’t a critique on their Projected Cap Hits — I’m not sure if anybody knew how stingy the market would be.
  • Almost half of these UFAs are making 80 percent or less than projected — and the market for the remaining UFAs is probably just getting worse.
  • There were only nine “overpaid” UFAs relative to projections — and Buffalo overpaid on three of them.
  • Per this model, Justin Schultz was overpaid by a lot.
  • Eight players will be making a $1 million or more less than their Projected Cap Hits each year of their recently-signed contracts: Tyson Barrie (-$2,406,381), Torey Krug (-$1,711,332), Thornton (-$1,677,816) Tyler Toffoli (-$1,620,328), Vladislav Namestnikov (-$1,420,653), Nieto (-$1,183,207), Tyler Ennis (-$1,106,442), and Pat Maroon (-$1,009,765).
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