The Washington Capitals are staying put.
After months of speculation that the financially troubled team might move, merge or disband, owner Abe Pollin announced yesterday that his hockey franchise would continue operations at Capital Centre for the 1982-83 season.
Pollin's decision was made public at a meeting of the Prince George's County Council, which voted by a 10-to-1 margin to grant six years of tax relief to the team.
A month ago, Pollin had said the decrease of the county's 10 percent amusement tax to one-half of 1 percent was one of four conditions necessary to keep the club in Washington.
Two of the other conditions -- reduction of Capital Centre rent and sellouts of the first 10 home games -- had been satisfied by Friday, the original deadline for a decision on the team's future. Season ticket sales hovered at the 5,600 mark.
Pollin had said the fulfillment of all four conditions was required by potential investors in the team.
In a press release distributed before the council voted on the emergency bill, Pollin stated that "after a meeting Monday night between my future partners and myself, we have decided that the Washington Capitals will remain in Prince George's County and will continue to play at Capital Centre."
Pollin also announced yesterday that two additional games were guaranteed sellouts, one by COMSAT Corporation and the other by "a large D.C. corporation" whose identity was not revealed. The owner said he considered those two sellouts to be the equivalent of 600 season tickets.
"So, we have, in reality, sold in excess of 6,200 season tickets, or 80 percent of our goal," Pollin's statement said.
Season-ticket sales will continue until the team's home opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 9.
"The investors and I agreed it had reached a plateau worthy of going forward," he said after the council meeting.
"I still hope to reach 7,500 by opening night."
And if not?
"It won't matter, the Caps are here to stay," Pollin said firmly.
At yesterday's council meeting, a throng of hockey fans turned out to voice their support of the team.
"My heart's with the Caps," read one pennant, and enough Save the Caps signs for a substantial picket line crowded the meeting room.
More than 100 people had registered to testify, many of them Capital Centre employes.
Citing the part-time jobs that had helped put them and their children through college, the money spent by customers in restaurants and the pride they felt in the county by having the failing team in the area, they told the council of their support for the tax measure.
"I was born in this county 72 years ago, and I've seen it grow, and I love to see a franchise of this nature here," said Isabella Purdy, a Suitland fan who offered impromptu testimony after scores of scheduled speakers.
"I think this is the kind of thing we need. This is a national franchise, not some little game."
Pollin testified, listing benefits derived by the county from his team since its inception.
Rebutting criticism that his claims of multimillion dollar losses were inflated, he distributed copies of a CPA's financial statement, detailing the specifics of those losses.
"I have personally lost $21,600,000 over the last eight years by owning the Washington Capitals," he said.
"I have received, in cash from the Capital Centre during this same period, approximately $6,600,000. This leaves me over $15,600,000 in the hole.
"I cannot withstand this continued hemorrhage of vast amounts of money."
Passage of the tax bill gives the Capitals a reduction to one-half of 1 percent for the next three years, with the half percent going to Maryland. In the fourth through sixth years, the tax will gradually scale back to the original 10 percent.
The county, which receives most of the revenue, will lose about $1 million over the six years.
A minority of citizens spoke out against the bill, calling the tax break "discriminatory" and a "bailout" at a time of cutbacks in other areas.
Council member Sue Mills cast the only dissenting vote. "It might be one thing if these were the Prince George's Capitals," she said.
"I think it might be more appropriate if (Washington) Mayor (Marion) Barry sent a $1 million welfare check to the Washington Capitals."
But Gerard McDonough, council chairman, said, "I don't think we as a local government should do anything to put one more person on the unemployment rolls."
County Executive Lawrence Hogan signed the bill at 2 p.m., less than a hour after passage by the council, and said, "If we didn't take this action, we would lose the tax forever . . . I felt I had no choice except to do this."
With the tax break established, and the other conditions all or virtually all met, 50 percent of the Capitals now will be purchased by four local businessmen.
Dick Patrick, Jim Lewis and Marty Irving, partners in a Virginia real estate company, and Albert Turner of Maryland now will become limited partners in the team.
Patrick also was named executive vice president of the team yesterday.
"It means he will be involved with the team on a day-to-day basis," said Pollin.
A month ago, when Pollin first identified his would-be partners, he had indicated Patrick would serve as consultant on hockey matters, but details of that agreement had not been worked out.
Patrick, who is from a well-known hockey family, said last month he did not anticipate playing much of a role in the Capitals organization.
"I will still be involved in my present businesses. I do not anticipate the Capitals taking much of my time," he said then. Patrick, like Lewis, is an attorney.
None of the new partners could be reached for comment yesterday.
From July 20 until yesterday, Pollin had insisted he would exercise one of his other options, moving, merging or folding the team, if the four demands were not met within a 30-day period.
The original deadline of Friday had to be extended because of the council's scheduled meeting yesterday.
Although Pollin admitted more than a week ago the chances of the franchise moving intact were diminishing because of time limitations, he maintained the other two options were still open.
Reports earlier this week suggested Pollin had been meeting with at least one other NHL club, negotiating a possible merger.
But John Ziegler, league president, said any such consolidation, which must have league approval, would be unlikely for this season.
Ziegler could not be reached yesterday for comment on the Capitals situation.
The NHL's composite schedule, which has been completed for more than a month, has not been released yet because of Washington's uncertain status.
The Capitals' own schedule will be released later this week.
Asked to react to the council's vote yesterday, Pollin said only, "I'm pleased. Very pleased." CAPTION: Picture, ABE POLLIN. . . "I have personally lost $21,600,000."