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Wild sign Brunette, trade for Zidlicky

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Doug Risebrough has long regretted letting left wing Andrew Brunette leave Minnesota in 2004.

Once free agency opened Tuesday, Risebrough didn't wait long to make amends for that decision. Brunette signed a three-year, $7 million deal to return to the team he played for from 2001-04.

"We are better, on the ice and in the dressing room, with him back," Risebrough said. "Not often do you get the chance to correct a mistake."

Brunette was a beloved member of the Wild - both by fans and players - during his first tour in Minnesota and will help fill a void left by Brian Rolston's exodus to New Jersey. After being unable to reach agreement on a contract with perhaps the team's most consistent player over the last three years, the Wild traded Rolston's rights to Tampa Bay.

The Lightning were unable to sign Rolston on Monday, so he became a free agent and returned to the Devils, the team that drafted him 11th overall in 1991.

Brunette ranks third on the Wild career list in assists, fifth in points and seventh in goals, including the most memorable goal in the franchise's seven-season history in 2003. He scored in overtime of Game 7 against Colorado to propel the Wild to a surprising berth in the Western Conference finals.

"That was my biggest goal, especially with that group of guys and that team and that moment," Brunette said during a conference call. "It's a real special goal. To accomplish what you did, against who we did it and the team that we did it with makes it special."

When he came up for free agency after 2004, Risebrough thought new NHL rules that cracked down harder on obstruction and were geared toward faster, slicker skaters would be a hindrance to Brunette, a hard-nosed grinder who likes to camp out in front of the net.

But Brunette had little trouble with the "New NHL," scoring 70 goals and adding 135 assists in three years with the Avs.

All the while, Brunette's heart remained in Minnesota. He returned to the Twin Cities for a few weeks at the end of each season, and again just before the next year started.

The bug to return really started biting when the Avs played the Wild in the first round of the playoffs.

"Being in the playoffs, the electricity in that building, it just makes you miss it that much more," Brunette said of the gleaming Xcel Energy Center. "It's a special place."

This offseason, Brunette started to narrow down the list of teams for whom he would like to play, and it was no surprise which club was at the top.

"There's no better place to play hockey than Minnesota," he said.

It's not just the city and the arena that make Brunette such a fan. He likes the young nucleus of Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns and Marian Gaborik and thinks the team will be a major player in the Western Conference next season.

The Wild also signed Phoenix right wing Craig Weller and traded for Nashville defenseman Marek Zidlicky on Tuesday to address a thin blue line, sending forward Ryan Jones and a second-round pick in next year's draft to the Predators.

Zidlicky, 31, spent four seasons with Nashville, and had 175 points and 299 penalty minutes in 307 games. Last season, he led Predators defensemen in points and assists. He will help fill holes left by Kurtis Foster's injury and the departures of Keith Carney and Petteri Nummelin.

"He's a super hockey player," Brunette said of Zidlicky, who is considered an offensive defenseman. "He was no fun to play against. Guys who are no fun to play against are good to have on your team."

Jones was Minnesota's fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft. Last season, he played in eight games for Houston of the AHL after leaving Miami of Ohio.

Brunette will turn 35 this year, but says he has given no thought to how much hockey he has left. He has played in 453 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NHL.

"I think we're going in the right direction," Brunette said. "I think we have a chance not only to compete but to maybe recapture some of that magic we had in 2003."

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