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Homecoming: Rafalski signs deal with Wings

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT -- Defenseman Brian Rafalski agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Red Wings on Sunday, shortly after defenseman Mathieu Schneider chose to leave the team in free agency.

Rafalski scored eight goals and had 55 points last season for the New Jersey Devils. He has 44 career goals and 311 points in seven NHL seasons, all in New Jersey.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound defenseman and three-time All-Star, was born in Dearborn, Mich., a western suburb of Detroit, and turns 34 in September.

"It was a difficult decision leaving New Jersey, the only team I've known, but I'm coming home to play for the team I grew up watching,'' Rafalski said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "To have this opportunity, is a dream.''

Rafalski's agent, William Zito, said five teams tried to sign the defenseman -- including one offering a six-year, $40 million contract -- but he wanted to play for his hometown team.

"It's a pretty neat thing for him,'' said Zito, adding it was bittersweet for Rafalski to leave New Jersey.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland summed up the obvious: "With his mobility and puck-handling skills, he is a perfect fit for our style of play.''

Schneider signed a two-year deal worth $11.25 million with the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. The 18-year veteran will make $5.5 million this season and $5.75 million the following year. He had 11 goals and 52 points last season for the Red Wings.

Holland expected to lose Schneider in free agency.

"We would love to have him back, but I expect him to hit the market and I don't blame him," Holland said Saturday night. "He's 38 years old, so he doesn't have a lot of chances to really take advantage of free agency."

Holland was cautiously optimistic on the eve of NHL free agency that he and Dominik Hasek would agree to contract terms to bring the star goaltender back. The six-time Vezina Trophy winner and two-time MVP informed the Red Wings several weeks ago that he wanted to play in Detroit again.

The Red Wings also want to re-sign forward Todd Bertuzzi, if he is willing to return with a shorter-term contract.

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