Defenseman Brian Rafalski agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings on the first day of NHL free agency Sunday, shortly after defenseman Mathieu Schneider chose to leave the team.
"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."
The three-time All-Star was born in Dearborn, just outside of Detroit.
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.
Rafalski scored eight goals and had 55 points last season for the Devils. He has 44 career goals and 311 points in seven NHL seasons, all in New Jersey.
"With his mobility and puck-handling skills, he is a perfect fit for our style of play," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a statement.
The three-time All-Star helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 2003 and 2000, and earned a silver medal while playing for Team USA in the 2002 Olympics.
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.
"If they re-signed him, obviously they wouldn't have had the space for me," Rafalski said.
Holland had 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.