James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, had been called “the least known consequential president” in American history. The youngest man ever to assume the office to that point in American history, his ability to move his party’s agenda was almost unparalleled in his single term as President. Restoring an independent Treasury, reducing tariffs, continuing the westward expansion to acquire California, New Mexico, and a large portion of what is now Oregon were completed in his administration. The Department of the Interior, the first executive agency added since the early days of the new Republic, was established under his watch.
But there was something…well, unique about Polk that transcended his accomplishments as President. A unique, some might say daring quality of style about him. I don’t know. What do you think…
Polk was a man decades ahead of his time, and not just as an administrator. He would bring to Washington a sense of style that would not be duplicated for more than a century. But it was worth the wait for one of the most distinctive, unique, and perhaps even beloved characters in Washington Capitals history. And that brings us to defenseman Al Iafrate. He might be the least known consequential defenseman in team history. Once a fourth overall draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he developed into a formidable offensive defenseman in his seven seasons with the Leafs, eventually posting 21 goals and 63 points in 1989-1990, what would be his last full season with Toronto.
Things were not going well for him off the ice, though, and after a slow start to the 1990-1991 season he requested a trade. The request was granted in January 1991 when the Caps sent center Peter Zezel and defenseman Bob Rouse to Toronto for Iafrate. He would become a hit. In four years in Washington, Iafrate scored 58 goals, including a career high 25 in 1992-1993. His 66 points that season were also a career best, and he finished sixth in the Norris Trophy voting for the league’s top defenseman.
The consequential nature of his stay in Washington is two-fold. First, despite appearing in just 256 games with the Caps (22nd among defensemen in team history), his 58 goals in a Caps uniform ranks him eighth among defensemen in team history. His 176 points ranks tenth on that list. His 11 postseason goals for the Caps is tied for fourth in team history (with John Carlson) despite his playing in fewer than half the playoff games of anyone ahead of him on that list. And, he had a reputation for having one of, if not the hardest shots of his generation, regardless of position.
But there was more, a certain style that hearkened back to another era…
Clearly, if there was one Capital who channeled our 11th President, linked by the timeless mullet, it could be none other than Al Iafrate.