Dave Christian was waiting when the phone rang yesterday at his home in a Minneapolis suburb. A few questions and answers later, he had pulled out a map and was showing his wife their new winter home: Washington.

"I'm very happy to go to Washington," said Christian, whom the Winnipeg Jets traded to the Capitals for a first-round draft pick. "They have a very good team and, being a U.S. citizen, I think it's more beneficial for me to be playing in the States.

"From last night on, I was pretty sure something would happen today. The only question, really, was where to. I'm more than pleased the way it worked out."

An important item for Christian is the fact that future checks will be payable in American dollars. The 20 percent discount on Canadian money was one of the key reasons why he had refused to sign a new contract with Winnipeg and was due to become a free agent July 1.

Except for the financial problems, Christian was happy to play in Winnipeg, where two years ago, at age 22, he had become that hockey rarity, an American-born captain of a Canadian NHL club.

"That made me feel good," Christian said. "They asked me and I thought about it and finally said yes. We had a good bunch of guys there and I had a lot of friends that I'll miss. But this is something I thought a lot about. I had my future to consider."

A future with the Jets, regardless of the dollar differential, is only a bit more secure than life with the St. Louis Blues. The club is suffering financial pains and was unable to sell out its lone home playoff game against Edmonton.

"I don't know whether people felt we wouldn't win or they felt we would win and they could see the next game," Christian said. "But it was surprising to see those empty seats. Our fan support had been good, considering that we weren't that successful."

Christian joined the Jets in March 1980, after helping the U.S. win the gold at Lake Placid, and he could be excused if the NHL looked like a piece of cake. He scored a goal seven seconds after he stepped on the ice for his first shift.

Things did not remain that bright, and the following fall he was part of the longest nonwinning streak in NHL history, a 30-game slide that eclipsed for futility anything even the early Capitals had accomplished.

"It was very tough and very frustrating," Christian said. "It made me appreciate winning. We would play well and still get beat by something. The bounces just didn't go for us."

Christian did not miss a game during his first two full seasons in Winnipeg, but during the past campaign he sat out 25, after a damaged shoulder reduced his effectiveness. It was corrected by surgery May 5.

"It wasn't separated all the way, but it was right on the verge and it kept slipping," Christian said. "They tightened it up and the doctor says there should be no problem."

Christian has no concern with the fact that he could be playing defense or wing or center or the point on the power play or anything else. He has played all positions except goalie and has no hesitation to do so again.

"I played everywhere in Winnipeg and, even though I played center most, I feel I can play anywhere with an adjustment period," Christian said.

Oh, yes, about that gold medal at Lake Placid. Christian did an outstanding job as a defenseman, following in the skates of his father, Bill, who scored the winning goal when the U.S. beat the Soviets to win the gold in 1960. Unlike some of his teammates, Dave would prefer to forget the past--for a while.

"I don't think about it," he said. "So much time has gone by and there are so many other things to concern me now. It's something I can tell my grandchildren about--like the visit to the White House afterward."

Would he like to return as a Stanley Cup winner?

"That sounds good," he said. "And we wouldn't have far to go.