The San Jose Sharks’ sell-off began in earnest Wednesday night when they traded forward Matt Nieto and Barracuda defenseman Ryan Merkley to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Jacob MacDonald and forward Martin Kaut.
One of a handful of outstanding unrestricted free agents in the Sharks roster, Nieto is returning to an Avalanche team he played for from 2016-2020. In 45 games for San Jose this season, Nieto is a second-round pick for the Sharks in 2011, he had 15 points and was one of the team’s best penalty killers.
In 364 career games with San Jose, Nieto, a Long Beach native, had 109 points.
The deal, which comes just over five weeks before the NHL closes on March 3, also closes the book on Merkley’s sometimes tumultuous tenure at San Jose.
Merkley was the Sharks’ 2018 first-round draft pick and was once described as the organization’s top pick.
However, Merkley felt he had crashed on the Sharks’ depth chart of organization this season and requested a trade earlier this month. He hadn’t appeared in an AHL game since Dec. 31, although team officials said he was also struggling with a minor injury.
Merkley’s only games with the Sharks came last season, when he recorded one goal and five assists in 39 NHL-level games. But Merkley, a pending restricted free agent, didn’t make the Sharks roster when he was left behind in San Jose while the team brought undrafted center Nick Cicek to Europe.
Just days before his final game with the Barracuda, the attackingly gifted Merkley was benched for the second and third periods of a December 27 game against Bakersfield. Coach John McCarthy was angered by Merkley’s lack of defensive play, a recurring problem during the fullback’s time with the organization.
That season with the Barracuda, Merkley had 14 points, all assists, in 30 games. In 93 AHL career games, Merkley has two goals, 42 assists and 70 penalty minutes.
The Sharks’ other upcoming UFAs are forward Nick Bonino and goaltender James Reimer as San Jose (14-25-10) entered Wednesday in seventh place in the Pacific Division, 17 points from a playoff spot. But other players have also been rumoured, including top scorer Timo Meier and defenders Erik Karlsson and Jaycob Megna.
MacDonald will join the Sharks when they play the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Kaut will join the Barracuda at Henderson, Nev. on Wednesday. played, with a second meeting on Friday.
MacDonald, 29, is in the first season of a two-year, two-way contract that has a cap of $762,500 at the NHL level. Kaut is a pending RFA.
MacDonald has 12 points and 21 penalty minutes in 76 total NHL games with Florida and Colorado. He had two assists in 33 games with the Avalanche this season, averaging 8:40 ice time per game.
MacDonald, who can also play the wing, has also played in 271 AHL games with Springfield, Albany, Binghamton and Colorado and has 189 points and 123 penalty minutes.
“Jacob is a versatile veteran player who was an American Hockey League-level All-Star and will add to our NHL roster,” Sharks general manager Mike Grier said in a statement about MacDonald.
Kaut, 23, has stints with the Avalanche and Colorado Eagles (AHL) this season. In the NHL, he played 27 NHL games with the Avs and averaged 9:08 ice time per game.
In 173 AHL games, Kaut has 99 points and 103 penalty minutes. In 47 NHL games, he has six points and ten penalty minutes.
Kaut, at 6ft 2 and 190 pounds, was originally drafted in the first round by Colorado, 16th overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft.
“Martin is a former first-round pick who is joining our group of young, developing forwards at the American Hockey League level,” Grier said.