Changing direction in hopes of improving their postseason fortunes, the Washington Capitals yesterday made three trades, including one that sent popular defenseman Al Iafrate to the Boston Bruins for center-left wing Joe Juneau, who had 102 points last season as a rookie.
Weak scoring has hindered the Capitals in recent years, and General Manager David Poile and Coach Jim Schoenfeld say they hope Juneau can create enough offense for himself and others to help lift the Capitals into the playoffs and over the early-round humps that have bedeviled them.
Poile had resisted the idea of trading either Iafrate or captain Kevin Hatcher because, under his regime, the team always has been defense-oriented. And it was not until he completed two other trades for defensemen in that mold that Poile agreed to send offensive-oriented Iafrate -- who turned 28 yesterday -- to the Bruins for the 26-year-old Juneau, who pronounces his first name zho-AY.
The Capitals also traded right wing Alan May and a 1995 seventh-round draft pick to Dallas for defenseman Jim Johnson and sent defenseman Enrico Ciccone, their 1994 third-round pick and a conditional draft pick in 1994 or 1995 to Tampa Bay for Joe Reekie.
"Al is more a victim of us wanting to go after an offensive player, and when we made that decision, there were only a couple guys to choose from," said Poile, who is in the last year of his contract and whose team is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
Juneau, who could not be reached for comment, is a native of Pont-Rouge, Quebec. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in three years with NCAA hockey honors and a degree in aeronautical engineering. He also has his pilot's license.
But what the Capitals most need are the hockey numbers on his resume. Juneau had 32 goals and 70 assists for 102 points in 1992-93, the fourth-highest total ever for a rookie. This season, Juneau has 14 goals and 58 assists for 72 points. His numbers have dropped because he missed nine games because of a broken jaw -- which requires him to wear a shield attached to his helmet. He also was not on the same line with the Bruins' top center, Adam Oates. However, his 72 points puts him atop the Capitals scoring list.
"Joe Juneau is a young player in the NHL, very exciting to watch, and has great moves," said Poile, who was very aware of Iafrate's fan appeal, but hopes more victories will please customers more. "He puts a lot of points on the board and that is what we needed -- either by himself or setting up other people."
Juneau, Johnson and Reekie are expected to arrive in time to play with the Capitals tonight at 7:30 against Hartford at USAir Arena. Iafrate and Juneau will face each other Sunday when the Bruins visit Landover, and it's possible the teams could meet in the playoffs.
The National Hockey League had a 3 p.m. deadline yesterday for trades, and Capitals players sensed that something was up. They quizzed a reporter before and after practice and made jokes about going home and not answering the phone.
After the deal was done, Iafrate did answer the phone, and was his usual animated self. Iafrate isn't the only Capitals player who occasionally smokes a cigarette. He's not the only one who drives a motorcycle. But the rebel image stuck and many fans responded. Iafrate got four times the mail of any other player.
"I lost my power when I cut my hair," Iafrate said with a laugh. Yes, he was laughing. This time, being traded didn't hurt as much as when Toronto sent him to Washington in 1991 for Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse. On the one hand, he said, yesterday was a "pretty good birthday" because he would get to play with a team that believed in him, had a top playmaker in Oates and "the best defenseman that ever played in Ray Bourque."
On the other hand, Iafrate said that if playing with the Capitals in Game 7 of the 1992 playoffs against Pittsburgh was a high point, "today was the worst" point in his three-year three-month stay in Washington.
"David Poile was always sincere," Iafrate said. "I didn't talk to him a lot, but whenever I did, he was always concerned about me as a person and not just as a hockey player. He probably was more concerned about me as a person and I always appreciated that. They were always good to me here."
Iafrate's strength is his speed, strength and offensive skill. What troubled coaches -- Schoenfeld and his predecessor, Terry Murray -- was his inconsistency. Yet, he still played 25 to 30 minutes every game for each coach.
In Johnson (6 feet 1, 190 pounds) and Reekie (6-3, 215), the Capitals are getting defensive-minded players. Johnson is 31 and Reekie 29. The Capitals were willing to get older players in part because they believe 1992 and 1993 first-round picks, Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt, will be ready to play soon and are both stay-at-home defensemen.
Ciccone was in Washington for only this season, having been traded from Dallas last June for Paul Cavallini. A very willing fighter -- which the Capitals needed more of in what is still a combative sport -- Ciccone had further to go in developing his skills.
"I was wondering why I got so much ice time," Ciccone said of Sunday's game in which the Capitals beat Tampa Bay, 3-0. "It's a surprise. ... A trade is tough. I liked it here, but it's a new team and I'll start over."
May is a prime example of someone who made a hockey career out of humble beginnings and left an imprint on the community. Undrafted, May bounced around the lower minor leagues before winning a contract from Boston through a tryout. He became an NHL regular with the Capitals in 1989-90, when he set a franchise record for penalty minutes (339). May was the Capitals nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Award, which recognizes leadership and humanitarian contributions.
But, with Craig Berube filling more of the enforcers' role, May played fewer games than in the past and did not dress in the past six.
"I'm extremely happy, because it's a fresh start and a chance to prove myself," May said. "But I didn't expect to be on this team as long as I was."
ALL WITH BOSTON
Reg. Season ..... GP ..... G ..... A ..... Pts
1991-92 ......... 14 ..... 5 .... 14 ...... 19
1992-93 ......... 84 .... 32 .... 70 ..... 102
1993-94 ......... 63 .... 14 .... 58 ...... 72
Totals ......... 161 .... 51 ... 142 ..... 193
Playoffs ........ GP ..... G ..... A ..... Pts
1991-92 ......... 15 ..... 4 ..... 8 ...... 12
1992-93 .......... 4 ..... 2 ..... 4 ....... 6
Totals .......... 19 ..... 6 .... 12 ...... 18
GP: Games played.