Bryan Watson is an unusual person, which explains why he will be back on the Washington Capitals' defense this season, instead of trying to fill out unemployment forms while writing left-handed.

Watson's right arm was severely cut by a chain saw a month ago, but emergency plastic surgery and some strange nerve structure combined to pass him safely through the crisis.

"I was really fortunate," Watson said by telephone from his summer home in Halliburton, Ontario. "I was helping a neighbor cut down a tree with a chain saw and I was checking to see that no oil was coming out of it. The saw stuck in a tree and it bucked, and I had to stop it with my arm.

"It got cut so bad the doctor here didn't want to touch it. So I called (Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager) Jim Gregory and he got the Leafs' plastic man, a Dr. Douglas.A friend of mine has an air strip here and he flew me to Toronto in 40 minutes. I went right to Wellesley Hospital and got straightened out.

"I cut a nerve and I could have had a lot of problems. The big thing was the unusual nerve structure in my arm. The doctor said it was a one-in-100 thing. In most people the nerve runs to the hand, then branches to the little finger and the rest of the hand. My nerve splits up in the arm, so all I lost was the feeling in my little finger for a while.

"The cast has been off a week and I've been working out here with some of the guys-Doug Patey for one. It feels really good. But if it hadn't been for the nerve structure in my arm I'm afraid I'd be through.

"I could hear the sign of relief around the league when it looked like my slap shot was finished. Now they'll have something to worry about again."

Watson could afford to laugh at himself. Owner of one of hockey's weakest shots, he has collected 17 goals in 15 NHL seasons. Now at least he'll have the chance to try for 20.

Watson's defense partner, Robert Picard, has shed his cast, too. Picard refractured the hamate bone in his right hand during the World Championship in Prague in May.

The bone has healed, but Picard is wearing a protector around it, principally to remove any temptation to play golf. The club fits at the base of the hand, where the hamate bone is located, and would tend to irritate it.

Detroit's loss of potential superstar Dale McCourt to Los Angeles as compensation for goalie Rogie Vachon left the folks at Capital Centre relieved that they did not join the bidding for Vachon.

"If you were looking for a key man for key man swap, McCourt was the logical conclusion," said Washington General Manager Max McNab. "L.A. has more superstar-class guys than Detroit, and this gives them one more. L.A. refused to negotiate on Vachon, and with our personnel situation, we just couldn't afford to take the gamble."

The way it turned out, neither could Detroit.