Mike Gartner, the last man cut by Team Canada, received a consolation prize yesterday. The 21-year-old right wing signed a lucrative contract with the Washington Capitals that is expected to bring him close to $1 million over the next five years.

"It took a little while, but I'm pretty happy," Gartner said. "When I first came down here two years ago, I was a week late for camp because we couldn't reach the type of agreement my agent (Gus Badali) wanted. So we took the shortest contract we could get (two years) and it paid off."

The payoff resulted from two spectacular seasons in which Gartner scored 36 and 48 goals, respectively, and became recognized as one of the fastest skaters and hottest properties in the National Hockey League. The fat figures in the contract are not likely to slow him down.

"It offers a bit of security, but I don't plan on falling into the mold of guys who sit back and are satisfied," Gartner said. "I plan on being better every year I play."

"Any kind of club would love to have him," said General Manager Max McNab. "When you get down to the top 24 guys in the league, you're talking about the best. The quickness he adds to the club, the talent, his great character -- he's a 100 percenter."

Although Gartner was not upset when he was released by Team Canada Monday, the reasons for the dismissal left him with something to prove to the principals involved, General Manager Cliff Fletcher of Calgary and Coach Scotty Bowman of Buffalo.

"They started with 35, then it was down to 24 and suddenly they told me I was too young and inexperienced," said Gartner, a standout for Canada in the world championships in April. "It makes me think a lot of the team was ready before the camp ever got under way. I don't want to take anything away from the players there, and there are some great ones, but it was kind of like, 'Mike, we'll see you in four years.' "

Although he had been working out with Team Canada for a month, Gartner plans to take only a short break to settle into his Mitchellville home with his wife before joining many of the Capitals in daily drills at Fort Dupont.