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Iafrate Hopes Injuries Are Behind Him

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Al Iafrate wants to get back the respect he once had.
MORRISVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Al Iafrate's 105 mph slapshot is legendary in hockey circles, almost as chronicled as his injuries the past four seasons.

But Carolina believes Iafrate is now healthy enough to make a difference on its sagging power play, signing the free agent defenseman to a one-year incentive-laden contract Tuesday.

The 32-year-old former four-time all-star has played only 59 games the past four seasons with Boston and San Jose because of knee surgeries and a back operation. But Iafrate is anxious to prove he can still be one of the game's best at his position.

``I feel this is a new start,'' said Iafrate, who will enter his 14th season with his fifth team. ``I want to get the respectability I had four years ago. Four years ago I was arguably the best defenseman in the league. My goal is to get that back. That's one of the main reasons I still play.''

Iafrate's base salary will be $300,000 with incentives for games played and level of production. Iafrate would likely have to put up numbers like his 25-goal, 41-assist season with Washington in 1992-93 to earn $3 million from the Hurricanes.

The signing of Iafrate, who was picked by Nashville in the recent expansion draft but became a free agent on July 1, came one day after the Hurricanes inked star center Ron Francis.

``This team is much improved and we're not just here to make the playoffs,'' said Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford. ``We feel we've improved to a point with a healthy lineup that we can be a contending team next year.''

The Hurricanes franchise, formerly the Hartford Whalers, has missed the NHL playoffs each of the last six seasons.

Rutherford decided to sign Iafrate to a one-year contract after he received a relatively clean bill of health from a Detroit doctor.

``There is no question it's a risk,'' said Rutherford. ``When you see something like his medical history you know something can go wrong. We feel the medical report is very strong. Even if we don't get a full slate of games from Al he's a real addition to our team.

``They didn't operate on his ability,'' Rutherford added. ``They have operated on his knees and his back. He can play every bit as good as he did at one time as long as he's healthy.''

Iafrate also said he signed with the Hurricanes because of a comfort level with the front office and coaching staff. He once played youth hockey in Detroit for a team sponsored by Peter Karmanos, who owns the Hurricanes.

``It was important for it to be understood that I'm not a fresh 18-year-old young guy anymore,'' Iafrate said. ``I've had a lot of wear and tear. The issue is knowing about my injuries and then that's the end of the issue. It's like, `OK, play as many games as you can.'''

Iafrate's hard shot from the point and skating ability fills a major void on the Hurricanes' power play, which finished 18th in the NHL last season.

``Al's shot is well-known throughout the league and he's going to draw some coverages,'' said coach Paul Maurice. ``He may not be able to get his shot off all the time but when you do that it opens up some things down low.''

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