The ice hockey competition at the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs attracted a large delegation of National Hockey League officials, including President John Ziegler.

Max McNab, general manager of the Washington Capitals, stayed home, pleading a heavy workload. Asked how Ziegler could find time for the trip to Colorado and he couldn't, McNab replied, "He hasn't got our problems."

The Capitals' principal problem, less than one month before the start of training camp, is the refusal of four defensemen to sign contracts. Each has an option year remaining on a current pact, but it has been club policy to negotiate an extension or get rid of the recalcitrant player, as was done in the case of Hartland Monshan.

The unhappy quartet consists of Pierre Bouchard, Rick Green, Pete Scamurra and Gord Lane. A fifth defenseman, Jack Lynch, signed a two-year contract Thursday, while winger Bob Sirois has indicated he is within a few commas of accepting the Capitals' latest offer.

The Capitals sent each player a formal offer last week, as required by NYL rules to prevent them from becoming free agents. Peter O'Malley, the team's chief negotiator, then called each man and suggested that if he did not accept the offer, there would be a long wait because O'Malley was taking a vacation until Labor Day.

The team's failure to reach terms with Bouchard is unfathomable, since his one-game appearance with Washington last year was the subject of considerable promotional hype and his play left Bouchard, fans and management most satisfied.

"It was 'We love you, we love you,' but then, Whoops, we don't want to pay you.'" Bouchard said from his Quebec farmhouse where a Canadian television crew had just completed a three-day session filming the wheat harvest.

"When I finished the season, I was all pepped up, but maybe it was for nothing. Maybe I am training for nothing. We're not far apart, but we're staying there for the last two months. There's no movement. It's not too encouraging when it stretches this long.

"I thought I was more reasonable in my asking. Maybe I should have been more hungrier. I asked for what I wanted. Maybe I should have asked for a lot more and we might have settled for what I wanted."

"I expected to be in Washington, preparing for the season," Bouchard said. "Now I don't know. It's a fun trip and maybe if I don't hear from Mr. O'Malley again I'll be going."

Bouchard sat out all but one game of last season after being picked by Washington from Montreal in the intraleague draft. He managed his father's restaurant instead. Recently, Bouchard's father sold the restaurant, because Pierre was so determined about making a comeback.

"I don't know really what's happening," Green said from his home in London, Ontario. "It's crazy. I can't understand it. They know my feelings about it and I'm waiting for them to make a move.

"I got their offer in the mail and it wasn't anything close. Then O'Malley called me and said he was going on holidays for three weeks. That was the end of it. The sooner I get this thing settled, the better for my peace of mind.

"From my understanding, from talks with my agent, there's quite a bit of interest in my services. Maybe that's what the club is working on. In my case, I'm looking forward to September. I'm expecting a big year."

Scamurra, rather surprisingly in this day of the agent, is handling his own salary negotiations. However, he has had no more success than Bouchard and Green.

"I got the offer in the mail, but it was just a sort of technical thing they had to do," Scamurra said from his home in Buffalo. "O'Malley called and I turned it down and he said it would be a while before he got back. We're stalemated, not even close."

Scamurra underwent surgery in January to repair knee ligament damage, but he reported that "the leg is fine. I've been playing tennis and skating every day, with no problems."

Lane, who could not be reached, apparently was offered only a token raise on his $50,000 contract, a pittance in these days of spiralling salaries.

Lynch, who will direct a hockey school in Severna Park for the next two weeks, provided a study in contrast when he said, "I'm happy, overjoyed. They've been really, really good to me, so fair it's fantastic. It was a yahoo when I heard the offer over the phone."

Sirois said he and the club were "five or six thousand dollars apart, but it's no problem. They're going to permit me to renegotiate each year and it's pretty much what I wanted. I'll be there in training camp, that's for sure."

O'Malley has not returned phone calls recently and did not appear at Capital Centre during the NHL entry draft on April 9, reportedly because he did not want to answer questions pertaining to the salary negotiations.