Now Iafrate is eager to set the record straight. "What happened is that we got into a fight with the bouncers at a strip joint," he says. "When they kicked us out, we started busting up the outside of the place, kicking in windows and stuff. They made it out in the papers like we were standing on the corner whipping rocks."
The rank injustice of it all.
But Iafrate's second preseason wasn't much smoother than his first. He arrived for training camp at 250 pounds, 30 over his playing weight. He explained to then coach Dan Maloney that he had tried skating during the summer but that his feet had blistered, so he had said "the hell with it."
"He had all the skills," says former Leaf assistant coach Garry Lariviere, searching for a tactful way to frame his next thought, "but the mental game didn't fall into place."
In his first three seasons Iafrate scored five, eight and nine goals, respectively. In 1987-88 he had a breakthrough 22-goal season and played in his first All-Star Game. Off the ice, however, his marriage was dissolving. In 1986 he had married Melissa Weber, his high school sweetheart. When they separated, in January '89—their divorce became final 10 months later—Iafrate took the better part of a month off from hockey. "I needed to get my life back together," he says.
Especially hurtful was that Melissa had begun dating Gary Leeman, a Maple Leaf teammate, after the separation. According to sources in Toronto, Iafrate stopped attending team social functions when Leeman started showing up at them with Melissa on his arm.
That wasn't the only difficulty Iafrate had in Toronto. In an on-ice collision with only a few games remaining in the '89-90 season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and underwent reconstructive surgery. With the help of aggressive therapy, Iafrate returned for the start of the next season, but his knee flared up and his play suffered. Iafrate then fell into disfavor with Tom Watt, the fifth coach he'd had in his seven years with the Leafs. Watt, who preached defense, sought to end Iafrate's spontaneous rushes into the offensive zone.
"They wanted me to get the puck and flip it out to the forwards," says Iafrate, still incredulous 2½ years later. "I'm like, Man, you want somebody to flip it out, get some guy who's happy just to be in the league. I've got too much to offer! I want to excite people. I want to excite myself!"
On Jan. 16, 1991, the Leafs traded Iafrate to Washington for defenseman Bob Rouse and center Peter Zezel. It was widely viewed as a risky deal for Washington. Zezel was a slick-passing center, Rouse a sturdy defenseman. Meanwhile question marks swirled around Iafrate's knee and head.
Iafrate lived under a microscope in Toronto and complained that his life had been "opened up like a can of worms." He saw the trade as his personal emancipation. Says Capital general manager David Poile, "Washington is not what you'd call a pressure-packed hockey atmosphere." Still, in 30 games with the Caps that season Iafrate had just six goals.