The Avs made a small splash before the NHL All-Star break by acquiring Matt Nieto in a four-player deal with San Jose. Here’s 10 thoughts on the trade, what it means for the Avalanche’s trade deadline plans and more:
1. The Matt Nieto trade was a steal. Martin Kaut and Jacob MacDonald have both been on waivers this season. Any team could have snatched either of them for free, and Colorado was fine with that. But they both cleared. Regardless of how Nieto and Ryan Merkley turn out, it’s impressive that Chris MacFarland got a two-player haul out of what could’ve been a punt.
2. Break down the trade by splitting it in two. MacDonald for Nieto, then Kaut for Merkley. The top half of the trade successfully filled Colorado’s biggest need: players who can put pucks in nets. MacDonald was a versatile roster filler because he could play forward or defense, but he had no goals and two assists in 33 games. Nieto arrived with 15 points (eight goals). He immediately adds more scoring production than any of Colorado’s bottom six, except Andrew Cogliano, who happens to be Nieto’s former San Jose linemate.
There are 12 forwards who have played multiple games on Colorado’s fourth line and also been sent down or waived this season. Those 12 have combined for three goals in 173 games.
3. Kaut for Merkley is a telling exchange because the Avs traded their No. 16 pick from the 2018 draft to get the player drafted five picks later. Kaut never solidified a consistent spot in the NHL. Merkley is a similar case — he hasn’t appeared in an NHL game this season — but it never hurts to add more depth defensemen before a playoff push. Merkley reportedly requested a trade from San Jose, so this is a situation where both players’ development might benefit from a change of scenery.
4. Nieto is a reputed penalty killer. Point production aside, Nieto adds another body to an Avalanche PK that’s already sharpening. A 19-for-20 stretch over eight games lifted the Avalanche to the top-20 after they were worst in the league earlier this season. Nieto helped the Sharks to an 83.7% PK rate, ranking fourth in the NHL. “Another trusted guy. Responsible two-way player,” Jared Bednar said. “A lot like Cogliano, (Logan) O’Connor. Fits that kind of mold for us.”
5. What does the Nieto addition mean for Colorado’s deadline? First, it reveals how much the Avs are prioritizing scorers, even in the small-scale transactions. Mikko Rantanen still accounts for 23% of the team’s goals. Second, this checks off a “depth D” box, but Colorado still has only two bona fide centers in Nathan MacKinnon and J.T. Compher. Alex Newhook and Evan Rodrigues can play the middle of the ice, but MacFarland remains in the market for a 2C.
6. A Bo Horvat note: A crucial component of the Horvat sweepstakes for Colorado or any other suitor is whether a contract extension can be reached after this season. Otherwise, would Vancouver’s asking price for the best scoring center on the market be worth the limited rental period? The trouble with any proceedings right now is that, as of Thursday, the Canucks still have not granted other teams permission to contact Horvat’s camp, a source said. So there’s no way for the cap-cramped Avalanche to know whether there would be a feasible long-term plan.
7. Brad Hunt might need to stay on the NHL roster. He’s making it hard for Colorado to place him on waivers. The blueliner has as many goals (three) in 23 games as Devon Toews has in 45. Obviously an unfair comparison given their different styles, but the point is Hunt has offensive upside for a depth defenseman, and he’s a respected locker-room presence throughout the league. If he goes on waivers, my hunch is he would get claimed. He’s under contract one more season at an affordable $762,500.
8. Quote of the year? The day Bednar became the winningest coach in franchise history, MacKinnon said this: “He’s always bumming chew off guys and stuff. Sneaking in guys’ stalls, looking for some pouches. Which is pretty funny as your coach.”
9. Watching the Bruce Boudreau situation unfold up-close. Briefly looking back to Vancouver, I just can’t stress enough how bizarre and bittersweet the scene was at Rogers Arena. The vibe in Vancouver’s dressing room was grim. I had never seen a coach in any sport end a news conference while tearing up. I had also never seen a fanbase unite to lovingly support a coach on the precipice of getting fired.
10. All hail the Saddledome. I was warned before the trip that Calgary’s rink was an old dump. Wrong. My first Saddledome experience ruled. I generally don’t mind heights, so the notorious press box on the catwalk was more fun than frightening. The concave ceiling (it’s shaped like a saddle from the outside) is gloriously tacky. The building reminded me of great old college basketball barns.
The press box also doesn’t have its own bathroom, for obvious reasons. I only bring that up because an injured Cale Makar was watching from the press box, so I thought it would’ve been hilarious if the superstar wanted to freak people out by using the public urinal.
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