It's not true that Dick Patrick spends his life circling the Beltway, although he admits, "Sometimes it does seem that way."

Patrick, 35, has been executive vice president of the Washington Capitals for just about six weeks. He also is one of the team's new investors and, when not tending his own business interests in Virginia, Patrick is involved in the behind-the-scenes running of the hockey club.

"I'm in touch with (General Manager) David (Poile) all the time -- I've talked to him twice this morning already -- and we work together," he said. "I don't know what it was like here before, or what it is on other teams, but now Abe (Pollin, controlling owner of the Capitals) seems to have confidence in me and Dave."

A test of that faith came just before the Capitals went to training camp, when Patrick and Poile presented Pollin with the deal that shook up the Capitals.

"We had talked among ourselves about strengths and weaknesses, fresh starts," said Patrick. "And the possibility of a Ryan Walter deal. Abe said something like, 'You may not understand the importance of Ryan Walter.' But the other side is, because Dave and I are new here, we could look at Walter's value with less emotion. I don't think the trade would have been made if we weren't here, because nobody ever wants to trade a guy like Walter."

Of course, former captain Walter was traded, along with defenseman Rick Green, to the Montreal Canadiens for defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom and forwards Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin, a move some Canadians disgustedly call Montreal's worst.

Pollin said of that trade, "My misgivings at the time were about giving up a player and human being the quality of Ryan. I was close to him personally."

Pollin says his own role with the Capitals has changed only slightly, in that Poile and Patrick are in constant contact, talking through preliminaries and bringing him into discussions later, for a consensus on whatever move is in the making. "The two are an excellent pair, each a sounding board for the other," he said. "From what I've seen, I do have a lot of confidence in both of them."

They had not known each other until they teamed up for the Capitals, but that doesn't seem to matter. Bonded by enthusiasm for this new venture, they actually seem to enjoy working together.

"I'm always talking with Dick," said Poile. "Because I'm still so new here, it helps to have him there, to react to ideas, to consider opinions. I'm new and so is he, so we have a definite advantage. We can concentrate on where the team is going instead of where it's been."

"Dave Poile runs the hockey club, and I'm the executive he talks with," Patrick said. "I deal with him as far as where we're going, and usually we're in agreement."

Patrick's duties as executive vice president never have been formally set out. "Abe had talked for some time about my becoming his hockey consultant and when I got this title we never sat down and said, 'You do this and this,' " he said. He doesn't even have a Capital Centre office, but he doesn't seem to want one.

Patrick -- yes, he is related to the Patrick Division, so to speak -- has the kind of hockey credentials, by relation if not experience, that impress. His cousin Craig is general manager of the New York Rangers. His father and uncle played for and coached that team, which was built by his grandfather almost 60 years ago.

A lawyer by trade, Patrick nevertheless absorbed more hockey know-how in simply growing up than even the most dedicated 80-games-a-year fanatic.

"He's a very knowledgeable hockey man," said Pollin. "He's also a bright and decent person. I am people oriented, and when you combine those three things, well, he impressed me. Before he was involved (with the Capitals), no, I had never met him."

When he joined the Capitals, Patrick said he did not envision a major role for himself. But these days, he appears increasingly involved.

"I've been careful not to compromise my efforts here (besides his legal practice, Patrick is a partner in a real estate development company) and I've taken the time instead out of my family," he said. "Nights, with paperwork. Or driving to and from Hershey . . . for an exhibition game."

Patrick plans to travel with the club occasionally this season, too, but hasn't -- and says he won't -- offer Coach Bryan Murray advice.

"I chat with Bryan, but that's as far as it goes," he said. "I have seen where too many people try to get involved. It hurts the team. And my concern is the team's being a success, on the ice and financially."