The Washington Capitals had those much-talked-of "guaranteed sellouts" through the season's first quarter, but the team's only real sellout came Dec. 26, the night Philadelphia broke the team's 14-game unbeaten streak. The early "sellouts," however, were not announced as such.

"The announced attendance is usually lower than the paid attendance," said Lew Strudler, the team's marketing director. "The companies that bought those games bought X number of seats and not all of those were used. But the only numbers announced are for the people in the building. The paid attendance figure can be a misleading one."

During the first 10 home games, attendance totaled 135,217, but it fell to 118,495 for the second 10 games, the most substantial decrease in the 21-team league.

Attendance this season averages 12,055, up slightly over last year's 11,378, and according to Strudler, "because last year so many of those were discounted and giveaway tickets," the current average is a more accurate reflection of team support.

"For the last few weeks there may have been a falling off in attendance, but you expect that. When everybody has Redskin mania, you can't expect them to pay attention to everything at Capital Centre," said Strudler. "You just take your two points and move on."

St. Louis Blues fans, troubled by reports that the Ralston Purina Co. will peddle the club to Saskatoon businessman Bill Hunter, aren't idle.

New Jersey Devils owner John McMullen said he has received more than 1,000 letters from Blues' enthusiasts, asking him to vote against moving the team.

McMullen, who has been involved with hockey only since purchasing the NHL's dying Denver franchise, said he will listen to arguments from all sides before making a decision on a vote, but he said the letters have had an impact on him.

"I am impressed by both the number and the sincerity," he said. "When we bought the Rockies, I don't recall getting a single letter from anyone in Denver asking me to keep the club there."

McMullen said he thinks because the fans in St. Louis have supported the team, it might be a mistake to suggest a move to Saskatoon "is a sure thing at this time."

The proposed sale will not come up at the NHL board of governors meeting today because the parties have not yet come to an agreement despite discussions Saturday.