The National Hockey Leauge's draft of amateur players takes place Tuesday and, for the first time in four years, the Washington Capitals are not in the forefront.

Although the first pick is a plum, the conditions for earning it are not so desirable. So Washington holds no envy for Detroit, No. 1 for a day as a result of being No. 18 for a season.

Ted Lindsay, the Red Wings' general manager, has dropped no hints about his selection, although one would assume he would choose Canada's junior player of the year, center Dale McCourt of St. Catharines. If there is a hangup over dollars, it would be no big comedown to Barry Beck, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenseman for New Westminister's Memorial Cup champions.Detroit has equal deficiiencies at both center and defense,

Colorado will select No. 2, presumably choosing whichever of the pair Detroit doesn't. Then it is the Capitols' turn and their attention has been grabbed by defenseman Robert Pichard of Montreal Juniors, who lunched with president Peter O'Malley and general manager Max McNab Thursday and has expressed a desire to play in Washington.

Montreal general manager Sam Pollock has expressed interest in Picard, too, and it would be no surprise to see Pollack dangle a package of experienced personnel, perhaps including doghouse occupant Peter Mahovlich, in front of the low-number drafters.

Thus far, both Lindsay and Pollack insist they have not discussed a deal for the Wings' first pick.

Left wing Jere Gillis of Sherbrooke is another highly rated junior, and the busy O'Malley nd McNab met him Wednesday night. Others who figure to go early include defensemen Doug Wilson of Ottawa, Kevin McCarthy of Winnipeg, Brad Maxwell of New Westminster and Scott Campbell of London; right wings John Anderson of Toronto, Mark Wolthouse of New Westminister, Mike Crombeen of Kingston and Dwight Foster of Kitchener, and center Ron Duguay of Sudbury.

Three players already in the World Hockey Association, signed underage, are eligible for the NHL draft. They are right wing Mark Napier of Birmingham, center John Tonelli of Houston and defenseman Gord Roberts of New England.

The possibility of a hockey merger clouds the status of this highly regarded trio, and also figures to influence attempts to sign draftees. It is unlikely a team will pay out a high price if the absence of biddling competition might be a week away.

The NHL has commissioned a staff of professional investigators from the University of Ottawa to analyze club records and try to discover some solutions to the problem of injuries, which increased last season by 35 per cent, resulting in 2,600 missed games and $3 million in salaries paid to idle players. NHL president Clarence Campbell called the situation "frightening."

One obvious remedy would be adoption of the international rule of icing, stopping play as soon as the puck crosses the goal line. Two players racing to touch the puck so close to the board are prone to serious injury.It was on such a play that Capitals' Mike Lampman suffered slippage of a vertebrate, putting him out for the season.

Members of the borad of governors would normally be expected to lend dignity to their organization, but some of the NHL's guiding (dim) bulbs blew their filaments in public this week.

Harold Ballard, the president of the Toronto Maple Leafts, was caught up in a minor hotel fire and commented, "I should have had (Philadelphia) owner Ed. Snider there with me.I could have thrown a little gas on him."

Snider, in urging the merger that Ballard opposed, said, "anybody who has any brains, and Harold Ballard has none, can analyze that hockey in the United States is on the decline."

Ballard was selected for the Hockey Hall of Fame this week, the third straight year a member of the board of governors has been so honored.

"I don't think an owner should be in the Hall of Fame," said Washington's Abe Pollin, and nobody within hearing disputed his point.

The Montreal meetings were an anniversary of sorts for Pollin, who was awarded the Capitals' franchise there five years ago.

"The details are getting dim," Pollin said, "but one thing I'll never forget. I don't get any sleep for four days."

Allen Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, was critical of the NHL search committee that recommended Detroit attorney John Ziegier as new president.

"The league is in need of strong direction," Eagleson said, "and the players thought it was unusual that a search committee of this kind would only come up with one name. It would seem reasonable to search out successful business people in the United States and Canada."

Ziegler is vice president of the Red Wings, who not only are the NHL's worst team but also rank near the bottom in attendance, averaging about 6,000 a game last year.