Capitals have goals in mind, trade Iafrate for Juneau

March 22, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Washington Capitals management gave up hope that its forwards would break out of their season-long slump and made a boldmove yesterday that could anchor the franchise for a long time.

The Capitals traded All-Star defenseman Al Iafrate to Boston for the offensive promise of 26-year-old center Joe Juneau.

"We made this trade for a variety of reasons," Capitals general manager David Poile said. "But first and foremost, it's a big step toward increasing our offensive production."

That has been a big concern since the Capitals traded Dino Ciccarelli to Detroit after the 1991-92 season. Last season, three Capitals defensemen helped fill the gap by scoring 20-plus goals.

But this year the Capitals have lacked a big gun.

The Capitals are battling for one of the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, where five points separate four teams.

Juneau, a player in his second full NHL season, brings the potential of 100-point seasons for the foreseeable future.

"You're never sure how much better you're going to be," Poile said. "But if our defensive play is as good and we take our `D offensive play up 10 percent, that can make a huge difference in our quest for making the playoffs and in what our chances are for winning in the playoffs."

"Al was a big part of our team and was very popular," Poile said. "And my sole goal is to improve our hockey club and make the club more popular. I know we've been competitive. We're always on the brink.

"Much of the criticism we've received has been because of our lack of an offensive presence. It's been frustrating for our team, which works very hard 90 percent of the time, when we can't get the key goal to get us over the hump."

Juneau was runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting last season with 32 goals and 70 assists for 102 points.

This season, he missed 10 games while twice recovering from a broken jaw, but has 14 goals and 58 assists for 72 points in 63 games.

"We've been able to win the low-scoring games," Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "Maybe now we can win the higher-scoring games, too. Joe sees the ice well, is a good passer and has all the courage he needs."

The trade for Juneau was made possible earlier in the day, when Washington acquired two veteran defensemen.

Washington added Jim Johnson from Dallas for right wing Alan May and a seventh-round pick in the 1995 entry draft. They also acquired Joe Reekie from Tampa Bay for defenseman Enrico Ciccone, the Caps' third-round pick in the 1994 entry draft and the Lightning's conditional pick previously acquired for Pat Elynuik.

"This makes us a better team all-around," Schoenfeld said. "Al gave us a lot, but we get a 100-point hockey player and with the guys we acquired on the blue line, we don't lose anything. We're better offensively and better defensively. We now have six strong defensemen instead of just the big four [Iafrate, Kevin Hatcher, Sylvain Cote and Calle Johansson]."

Juneau did not return messages left on his answering machine )) last night.

Iafrate, "Wild Thing" to his many Washington fans, had been criticized lately for not playing well in some key situations. But he said last night he did not see this trade coming.

"David Poile was always good to me and was pretty genuine in his concern about me as a person," said Iafrate, who turned 28 yesterday. "With him, I was a person first and an athlete second, and that was much appreciated by me -- and I told him that.

"Now, I'm going to the Boston Bruins. Who wouldn't be happy about that? I'm going to a solid team that wanted me, traded for me. I'm pretty happy."

Another player traded yesterday, May, also was happy. May had been benched for the past six games.

"David and I talked while we were in Dallas [last week]," said May, whojoined the club six years ago. "He told me he was going to take care of me and try to move me to a team where I'd fit in. very happy."

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