Max McNab and Tom McVie, the mutual admiration society that has transformed the Washington Capitals from ridicule to respectability, will be rewarded with long-term contracts at increased salaries.

The formal announcemnt will be made during a luncheon honoring them Thursday at Duke Zeibert's restaurant.

In a twist that typifies the incredible work schedule the two have pursued, there is a possibility that McNab won't be able to attend his own celebration. He was in Quebec yesterday, taking with the principals in the Robert Picard defection.

Also typical of Mcnab was his reaction to Picard's sudden shift. Instead of resorting to epithets, he said, "Things come to test you. We'll see what tomorrow brings."

Hard work and attention to detail have been the means by which McNab and McVie have lifted a team in chaotic condition, close to disintegration, into one that is competitive with most of its NHL opposition. They have never panicked in the face of adversity but, instead, have slowly acquired more talented players and used innovative conditioning techniques to obtain maximum results.

"We're on a long journey," McVie said the other day, "and we're headed in the right direction. But we haven't really started on the trip yet."

McNab became general manager and McVie coach on Dec. 30, 1975, at which time the Capitals were 3-28-5, had been winless for 14 straight games and were assuredly the worst team in NHL history. It took 12 games for the newcomers to win one, but progress has continued and after last season's 24-42-14 record. McVie was second to Montreal's Scotty Bowman in coach of the year voting.

Although the new contracts are a reward for jobs well done, they also figure to help the club's brass sleep better.

"During the league meetings, we noticed a number of NHL people who were concerned about whether Tommy was happy in his present situation," said club president peter O'malley.

O'Malley has called McNab and McVie "two of the most industrious committed, dedicated people in hockey." A more impartial observer would probably consider them workaholics.

McNab has taken two brief vacations in the past year, one to Florida and one to Rehobeth beach. Each time he was ordered by O'malley and admits he went "kicking and screaming."

McVie and his family received a week's vacation at Deer Lake, Pa., from a magazine that named him hockey's man of the year. McVie stayed two days.

"I couldn't back it." McVie said. "It was too quiet. It drove me nuts. We swam and went boating and then we went home. I guess I'd take some time off, but every time I phone Max's office he's there.

So McVie, when he isn't conducting practice, looks at films, talks to McNab and dreams up ways to gain a slight edge on more talented opponents. That kind of schedule doesn't lend itself to the cocktail circuit of other Washingtonians, but the two are fortunate to have understanding wives.

"Thank God for June McNab and Arlene McVie." Arlene's husband said. "They've been put to the side for a moment because this team with Max McNab and me has become an obsession."

McVie recalled the time a woman reporter was assigned to write a story about Arlene.

"She asked Arlene to tell her some of the exciting things that happened to her as the wife of a hockey coach." McVie said. "Arlene kept saying 'Nothing.' but the woman persisted and Arlene finally said. "Well, he fell asleep at the dinner table the other night."

With training camp opening Monday, things won't get any better for the camp followers. But with McNab and McVie signed up for that "long journey." the Capital expect things to get a lot better.