- 2018-19: $1.10MM
- 2019-20: $1.50MM
- 2020-21: $1.65MM
Santini will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the deal (provided he plays in at least five more NHL games during that time), but this gives him some contract stability going forward and ensures his place with the Devils. The big defenseman played 36 games for the team last season and performed admirably, recording 10 points and routinely being among the most physical players on the team. That’s something GM Ray Shero pointed out in the press release for the Santini contract:
We are excited to lock up Steven, a young, developing defenseman, for the next three seasons. He provides size and a physical element that complements our existing defensive group moving forward.
The team obviously believes that Santini can handle himself in the defensive zone, as some of his poor possession statistics can be traced back to the incredibly lopsided zone-start numbers head coach John Hynes gave him. Still, those possession numbers will send up alarm bells for some New Jersey fans looking at a three-year term for the young defenseman. At a $1.42MM cap hit there is no reason to think that Santini will be a full-time player for all three seasons, but the deal is expensive enough to expect at least some contribution. With Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen and Ben Lovejoy all on deals expiring in either the 2019 or 2020 offseasons, the team will have to make some tough decisions on how the blue line will look going forward.
Santini represents the second-last RFA the Devils had to sign this offseason, as now only Miles Wood remains without a contract. Even with a raise coming for Wood, New Jersey will still rank near the very bottom of the league in terms of salary commitments and could potentially add basically whoever they want without causing real financial ramifications. Low-cost deals like the one given to Santini will ensure that the team still has enough money to hand out to players like Vatanan and Taylor Hall when their extension window opens, though they don’t guarantee that the team will move forward in the standings. We’ll have to wait and see if Santini can take another step forward in his development and become more than just a defensive zone whipping boy.