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Defenseman Brian Leetch joined the NHL's elite when he signed with the New York Rangers for a reported $18 million over seven years.

The contract puts him in the same financial company as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, rookie Eric Lindros and teammate Mark Messier, according to a report in today's Newsday."It's fantastic," Leetch said Sunday. "I can't think of a better place to spend the major part of my career."

The 24-year-old Leetch became the league's highest paid defenseman as New York prepares for another run at the Stanley Cup, which they haven't won since 1940.

Leetch, who was paid $250,000 last season, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, only the second Ranger to win the award. Harry Howell won it in 1966-67.