After the Washington Capitals scored only eight goals in five games from three players (forward Alex Ovechkin: four, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and forward T.J. Oshie: two) in their five-game loss to the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is pretty clear that forward depth is needed for the team this offseason especially with Ovechkin, Oshie, Backstrom, and center Lars Eller all age 30 or older.
After seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins add forward Jason Zucker, the Tampa Lightning acquire center Blake Coleman, and the Islanders get center Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the past year, perhaps the Capitals should counter those moves as all will be with their respective teams through at least next season. NoVa Caps explores a possible trade to do the things listed above.
- F Alex Iafallo
To Los Angeles Kings
- F Axel Jonnson-Fjallby
- 2022 third-round pick
- F Richard Panik
- 2020 fourth-round pick
Iafallo can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 NHL season and will be making just $2.425 million under the salary cap. In addition, he is only 26 years old. The Kings may have had a slightly better season in 2019-20 than the previous one. However, they still finished with the fourth-worst points percentage in the NHL (.457), and it seems very unlikely that they will compete for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot next season with an aging core and inadequate depth at offense and defense. Another factor that may make the Kings willing to trade Iafallo: with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, they are expected to select either center Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle.
Iafallo is coming off of a season where he set career-highs in goals (17), assists (26), and points (43) despite playing in a career-low 70 games during the shortened regular season. He also posted a 51.15% Corsi-for percentage, a 48.65% expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.1% shot-attempts percentage. Iafallo had a 12% shooting percentage.
He averaged 18:56 worth of ice-time per game, including 2:29 on the power-play (tied for the fifth-highest on the Kings) and 1:27 on the penalty-kill (tied for the fifth-highest).
Iafallo was credited with 49 hits, 47 blocked shots, a team-low 0.49 giveaways-per-60, and 18 takeaways during the 2019-20 season. As you can see in the graph below, Iafallo is a pretty responsible two-way winger.
The Capitals could use another middle-six forward as their top-three forwards in average ice-time per game (Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie) are all over age 32 or over. With the team’s Stanley Cup window closing soon, they should add a forward to help out the Capitals’ big guns, especially after seeing how bad the offense dried up against the Islanders. The Capitals might not even have to give up a first-round pick to acquire Iafallo, though two seconds wouldn’t be out of the question if the Kings want more than what was proposed initially.
While playing with center Anze Kopitar for most of the time, Iafallo’s point production has increased in each of his three NHL seasons as he has gone from 25 in 75 games in his rookie season to 33 in 82 last season and 43 in 70 this past season despite the Kings averaging just 2.62 goals-per-game during his time with the team, the fourth-worst in the NHL. That would likely go up playing with some of the Capitals’ skilled forwards.
He finished the 2019-20 season with a 1.4 goals-above expected (second on the Kings), demonstrating that he is a quality shooter, and an expected 0.71 goals-per-60, according to MoneyPuck.
In 227 career NHL games, all with the Kings, Iafallo has recorded 41 goals, 101 points, and a -6 rating after signing with them as an undrafted free agent before the 2017-18 season. He scored 21 goals and 51 points in 42 games during his final NCAA season at Minnesota Duluth. He has demonstrated his knack for scoring goals for years.
Iafallo would likely skate on the Capitals’ second-line next season but could be moved around with all of the team’s talent up front. They would likely have to throw in Panik, who is much better suited for the fourth-line and carries a cap hit of $2.75 cap hit (probably a little expensive for a fourth-liner as good as he was to finish the season). However, Iafallo has a higher ceiling than Panik and makes slightly less than him ($0.32 million), which would not only improve the Capitals’ forward group but also clear a little bit of cap space.
Here are the projected lines with Iafallo on the Capitals:
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Alex Iafallo — Nicklas Backstrom — Jakub Vrana
Carl Hagelin — Lars Eller — T.J. Oshie
Beck Malenstyn — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Extra: Travis Boyd
The Kings are currently in a rebuild, and by trading Iafallo, they will likely get some decent draft picks and another young piece in Jonsson-Fjallby, who has been in the Capitals’ organization for many years but has not quite broken through yet. Also, every players’ dream is to win the Stanley Cup, which will not certainly happen in Los Angeles in the short-term. With Iafallo set to become an unrestricted free agent, the Kings will probably trade him before the trade deadline next season unless they stun the NHL and get in the Western Conference wild-card race. If the Capitals were to trade Panik, the return would likely consist of a third or fourth-round pick, so that could make MacLellan more willing to do this deal.
The Capitals’ top priority this offseason will be acquiring a defenseman via trade or free agency but adding a player like Iafallo to the mix would support a talented but aging forward group, add more depth after the Capitals’ offense did not show up in the first round, and bolster the team’s chances for a second Stanley Cup next season. Acquiring a forward needs to be on MacLellan’s offseason to-do list, and there may not be many better options than Iafallo with his cheap price tag, current team in a rebuild, and he is still in his prime.
By Harrison Brown