In the Washington Capitals' 30-day, everything-must-go sale, season ticket sales have virtually stopped.

To date, the team has sold 5,004 season tickets, almost 2,500 shy of the number required by owner Abe Pollin and four potential investors to keep the club operating this year.

The team must also sell out its first 10 home games. Nine local businesses have guaranteed sellouts, and the Capitals are negotiating with others who might sponsor the remaining game.

During the Capitals' eight-year history, they have had only 19 sellouts, two last season.

Reduction of Capital Centre rent, another condition for the team's survival, has been satisfied. Tax relief from Prince George's County is under consideration by the County Council, and is expected to be approved at an Aug. 24 meeting.

Pollin had said if the team did not meet all the requirements by Friday, the franchise would be sold and moved, merged with another team, or disbanded. However, he said last week he is still "optimistic" that the team will meet its goals, and, when asked, said, "If we got close (to 7,500 in season ticket sales) I think we'd be flexible.

"I believe we'll get our sellouts," he said. "As for season tickets, I guess 'close' is a relative term. I don't know how far away we would have to be to be close."

Dick Patrick, one of the would-be investors, said he could not speak for the others in the group, but allowed that "with many, many more individual tickets to compensate for the season tickets, it would probably be flexible."

"What we are willing to do is invest in the team if these things are achieved," he said. "Because as a whole, with all four conditions, it'll mean the team is on a solid basis. Our involvement is based on the franchise becoming a stable one."

Marty Irving, one of Patrick's partners in a Virginia real estate firm and a potential investor, said, "It's up to the business people to look at it and make up their minds about whether the team is worth keeping here. There are some firms who have put money out, but the question is, how much can they do?"

Pollin is counting heavily on local companies to buy quantities of season tickets this week.

A letter sent by the Washington Board of Trade to its nearly 5,000 members has brought in 20 new requests for season tickets, and at least 30 sales of 10-game packages.

But while Save-the-Caps volunteers wait for phones to ring at Capital Centre, and Pollin stresses daily the need for help from the business community, the hockey side continues doing business as usual.

The official National Hockey League schedule was completed several weeks ago, with the Capitals in place for their 80 games, opening in New York against the Rangers. Capitals training camp and regular season travel arrangements have been made; players who come into Washington before camp will get some ice time at the Fort Dupont practice rink.

Even John Ziegler, NHL president, seems positive the Capitals will be skating this season.

"We are operating on the basis that they will operate," he said last week, in town for the team's mini-telethon. "The other alternatives (set by Pollin) haven't been considered by the league at this point."

Those alternatives raise questions that have yet to be answered. Ziegler wouldn't even address the prospect of the team's moving, and combining with another club -- most logically, New Jersey -- seems unlikely now.

John McMullen, who owns the New Jersey Devils (formerly the Colorado Rockies), said he hasn't even spoken to Pollin about the possibility of merging, adding, "His objective is to keep the team in the capital and that's the best thing."

And despite sluggish season ticket sales, Pollin remains optimistic, saying he believes the team will meet its goals.

Aside from those outstanding tickets, all the Capitals seem to need is a green light.