Pierre Bouchard's telephone was ringing off the hook yesterday. But for a change, the callers were not the Washington Capitals, because the 31-year-old Bouchard had abandoned his retirement to join the team.

Instead, a Montreal newspaper rang to arrange for a Sunday color picture in Washington uniform. A radio station promised a live broadcast of Bouchard's first game, which will be determined by General Manager Max McNab and Coach Danny Belisle.

It was a no-holdes-barred barrage of attention for one of the most popular players ever to wear the red, white and blue uniform of the Canadiens.

"It gets to a point where you decide to retire and then you think about the 10 years you played as a pro and it's your whole life," Bouchard said. "I can always go back to my restaurant, but now is the best time to find out if I want to play here.

"I feel I should try it again. I didn't miss it at first, but after Christmas it started to hit me more and more. A week and a half ago I talked to Mr. (Alan) Eagleson (his agent) and he talked to Mr. McNab and Mr. (Peter) O'Malley (The Capitals' lawyer) and we arranged it.It's an evaluation period for both of us. If I wait till September to decide, it would mean anxiety all summer whether I will like the team or the team will like me."

Bouchard, who spent eight seasons on the Canadiens' defense, was left unprotected by Montreal in the October waiver draft. In a prearranged deal, he then was drafted by Washington and returned to Montreal for winger Rod Schutt, who was protected in a special category as a second-year pro. Three days later, however, the deal was nullified by NHL President John Ziegler, who ruled Bouchard must play for Washington or nobody.

Hurt by his treatment from Montreal, Bouchard opted for nobody and persisted in that decision despite frequent calls from McNab and other Cap officials.

"It was just a deal but it was poorly handled by the Canadiens," Bouchard said. "Every newspaperman knew, but they told me nothing. Washington was having Rod Schutt and I was nowhere, after so many years. I guess they didn't want me."

Asked if he was hoping McNab could revive the deal with Montreal at season's end, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Bouchard quickly replied, "No, this is over. They got rid of me. Now I will do my best to help out Washington."

Tonight in Capital Centre, the Capitals play Pittsburgh, which eventually obtained Schutt from Montreal for a No. 1 draft choice. Schutt has 24 goals and 20 assists for the Penguins.

McNab noted that "we are not bringing Pierre in as a miracle worker, but we are mathematical and he would be available for a stretch drive and playoffs."

Realizing that gaining a playoff berth at this stage would require a miracle, McNab has informed his players that they are free to listen to requests to join national teams for the World Championships in Moscow, April 14-28.

Rolf Edberg and Leif Svensson have agreed to play for Sweden. Team U.S.A. is anxious to persuade Tom Rowe to join up. Robert Picard, Guy Charron, Dennis Maruk, Bob Sirois, Ryan Walter and Rick Green are potentials for Canada, which will be assembled from the five nonplayoff teams.