Danny Belisle thinks the Washington Capitals can amass 70 points this season.

That would be about 46 percent more than last year, but don't write it off as grease for owner Abe Pollin's ego. Belisle's prediction a year ago would have made a soothsayer envious.

Belisle told Philadelphia Firebirds management that this grab-bag collection of talent could finish 500 in its initial American Hockey League season. The Firebirds wound up 35-35-11.

"On Sept. 29 (1977) a guy representing the owner called me and said we had gotten an American League franchise," Belisle recalled. "I had mixed emotions. I wanted to be in hockey and that had looked doubtful, with the North American League folding during the summer. But here we were going to open up the season in 13 days and we didn't have a hockey player.

"He asked me how many games we would win and I told him that was a pretty touch question. He said, "The boss wants to know. Will you be .500?" I said, 'Okay tell him we'll be .500. If I'm .500, I'll consider it a successful year.'

"So we finish 35-35-11 and make the playoffs and beat out some established teams, and the guy says, 'you're a man of your word.'

'I probably shouldn't let anybody know my goal this year. But I'm going to tell the players. I think we can get 70 points if we can get things together."

In six years behind a hockey bench. Belisle three times has been coach of the year. Conversely, he has seen two teams and one league disappear with him aboard. The Des Moines Capitols of the International League and the Syracuse Blazers of the North American League disappeared after Belisle took them to championships. Then the entire NAHL was swallowed up. Minor league hockey obviously offers no job security, but it provides marvelous experience.

I hear NHL players say they'd like to coach, but they won't go to the minors," Belisle said. "That's an asinine statement. You don't understand what coaching entails until you get into it.

"I think Fred Shero said it best: it's like being in dentistry school for seven years. Until you set up an office you're not a dentist.' You can be involved in hockey for 35 years, but until you get behind the bench you're not coach.

"Two years ago I wouldn't have been totally comfortable coaching in the NHL. But the job in the American League was a fair enough step and I think the whole total six years, with the adversities in the minors, was training you couldn't get anywhere else. Coaching is a different ball game altogether. You have to adjust your outlook and your thoughts."

Belisle's debut as the Capitol coach here last night left him nervous - "I had a brutal sleep" - and reminiscent of his only previous NHL experience 18 years ago when he played four games for the New York Rangers.

"That was my biggest thrill," Belisle said. "They called me up on Christmas Day of 1960, to play against the Montreal Canadians. What a team that was - the Rocket (Maurice Richard), Pocket Rocket (Henri Richard), Boom Boom Geoffrion, Doug Harvey Jacques Plante. Maybe the greatest team ever.

"It was 0-0 in the third period and I got a goal. The Rocket tied it but Andy Hebenton got a goal for us and we won, 2-1. I played three more games and got another goal, then it was back to the minors.

"In those days, with the six teams, they typed you quick. If you couldn't do this or couldn't do that, goodbye. I thought I could have bed a better shot, but there were a lot of guys better than me, really fine hockey players, who never got a chance.

"It was like a fruit train. If you didn't pick the fruit it fell and rotted on the ground. A lot of guys were rotting in the minors in those days."

Belisle bounced and bused from Providence to Three Rivers to Vancouver to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Baltimore to Omaha to Quebec to Victoria to Memphis to Jacksonville to Clumbus to Des Monies.He quit once, to play senior amateur hockey in Barrie, Ontario, and sell real estate, "but it was hard to sell real estate in Barrie in the winter, so I came back."

When his playing career was over, irrevocably, Belisle turned to selling insurance. A year of that convinced him he needed hockey to keep the juices flowing.

"Being out of the game was a tough adjustment," Belisle said. "When you're in hockey, you don't get much of a chance to learn a trade. I grew up in South Porcupine, up in northern Ontario, and up there you either played hockey or went into the mines. I did both, hockey in the winter and the mines in the summer.

"In Canada in those days, it was tough financially to try to go on to college. I played every sport and roamed around like a wild animal. Some of the guys who played in the NHL came back with their big cars and all that, and I knew hockey was what I wanted.

"After selling insurance, I had to get back in hockey.The coaching job came open in Des Moines and I went after it. I got it, but for a while I really wondered why I bothered.

"That first year was a bad situation. The travel was awful and I was coaching players I had just played with guys I knew socially, guys I'd had a beer with. It was tough. But the next year we won the championship and things have been working out. I haven't missed the playoffs yet - and I hope that means this year, too."

Reaching the NHL also helped to fulfill an ambition of Belisle's wife Carol. She is a native of Chevy Chase, Md., whom Belisle met here in Los Angeles.

"It's like a dream," Belisle said. "She always told me, 'If you ever reach the top, get a job in Washington.' She always wanted to go back."

And South Porcupine? Well, it's a nice place to visit.