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Gomez signs with Rangers, Rafalski with Detroit

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http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=e...2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2

Gomez signs with Rangers, Rafalski with Detroit

Monday, July 2, 2007

By TOM GULITTI

STAFF WRITER

As non-game days go, the Devils might never have had one worse than Sunday.

In less than three hours, they lost their No. 1 center and top offensive defenseman to unrestricted free agency.

Center Scott Gomez actually was the second player out of the Garden State, signing early Sunday evening with the rival Rangers for seven seasons at an average of $7.36 million per season -- a total of $51.52 million. Gomez, who earned $5 million last season with the Devils, will receive $10 million for the first season and has the right to veto trades to three teams.

Gomez, 27, is excited to get the chance to show what he can do under the spotlight at Madison Square Garden after seven seasons in New Jersey.

"Hey, it's New York City. It's the greatest stage in sport," he said. "It's the pressure of New York. It was time to move on to a new chapter."

Gomez's departure was not unexpected, but it became a devastating blow after defenseman Brian Rafalski left earlier in the day to sign a five-year, $30 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Although Rafalski had stated his desire to stay in New Jersey, he didn't receive the financial commitment from the Devils he was seeking before hitting the unrestricted free agent market at noon on Sunday, so the 33-year-old Dearborn, Mich., native signed with his hometown team instead.

"New Jersey was always there, but this came down to an opportunity to move home," Rafalski said. "I have a lot of family there. This is the team I grew up watching and it was an opportunity I probably wouldn't have again in my career."

With the Rangers also signing center Chris Drury on Sunday to five-year, $35.25 million deal, the Devils also might have seen the balance of power in the Atlantic Division shift across the Hudson River.

Still, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello felt the money and the length of the contracts Rafalski and Gomez received were too much for him to match.

"When the dollars get to that point, you just have to wish them the best of luck," Lamoriello said. "We're not looking at it as a negative. We appreciate the position that Scotty and Brian were in. They gave us everything while they were here and we'd like to think that we've given them a reciprocal situation, but to look at it as a demise or bleak situation, absolutely not."

Lamoriello pointed to center Travis Zajac, who had a solid rookie campaign in 2006-07, and defenseman Andy Greene, who played well in the playoffs after being recalled late in the regular season, as reasons why the team can afford losing Gomez and Rafalski.

Lamoriello also mentioned the need to sign left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Paul Martin, both restricted free agents, to long-term deals.

"There are other players here who will get certain responsibilities that we feel very good about," Lamoriello said. "We will never put ourselves in a position that we feel we wouldn't have the capability of winning. I'm confident other people will step up and do the things necessary."

Lamoriello said he would look at "alternatives" -- there were rumors he was interested in Rangers center Michael Nylander -- but said he didn't "have to" sign another center. He also said he would explore signing another defenseman.

The Devils did re-sign defenseman Johnny Oduya on Sunday. Oduya, 25, would have been a restricted free agent, but the Devils did not make him a qualifying offer, which allowed him to become unrestricted before they quickly re-signed him.

Gomez knew entering the day that his days as a Devil were likely over.

"You had the feeling that it was going to go that route," Gomez said. "It was a great experience. The lessons I got there are ones I'll never forget."

Lamoriello never made a contract offer, but told Gomez's agent, Ian Pulver, Sunday morning to call him later in the day if he wanted. He never heard back from him for Gomez.

"Where the numbers are, I think they knew we never would be able to participate in that," Lamoriello said.

Although Lamoriello did offer Rafalski a slight raise from his $4.2 million salary last year, it was nowhere near what the Red Wings provided.

"I understood what his offer was and where he was coming from and I respected that," Rafalski said. "It came to the point where we had to come to a decision this morning and it's not an easy thing to do."

E-mail: gulitti@northjersey.com

* * *

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"I understood what his offer was and where he was coming from and I respected that," Rafalski said. "It came to the point where we had to come to a decision this morning and it's not an easy thing to do."

Rafalski has class all the way. I am sad to see him go and a wish him the best of luck in the future

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Ralfaski unless Gomez has class.Gomez is just a freaking 2face chicken sh!t face.

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Ralfaski unless Gomez has class.Gomez is just a freaking 2face chicken sh!t face.

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Ralfaski unless Gomez has class.Gomez is just a freaking 2face chicken sh!t face.

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I hope, and expect, Rafalski to get a nice round of applause when he plays in NJ next.

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I hope, and expect, Rafalski to get a nice round of applause when he plays in NJ next.

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I hope, and expect, Rafalski to get a nice round of applause when he plays in NJ next.

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