Riggo, Landry, Randy White/Redskins-Cowboys, Fight, Fight, Fight!

Now that I've got your attention, let's move on.

Right now, the hottest team in the NHL -- not the NFL -- is right here.

The Washington Capitals have won six games in a row, and after a slow start their 29 points tie them for sixth best in the 21-team league.

Making the playoffs is no longer the goal for this franchise, which was for many seasons, without question, the dregs of the hemisphere.

Now, the Capitals are expected to last a while.

Maybe even into the championship round.

And while that expectation may be too great -- after all, this is a team that has won only one playoff series in its 10-year history and has never won its division -- it is, at least, no longer unthinkable. Someone can actually say, "The Capitals are a Stanley Cup contender," without fear someone else will say, "Going mental, I must say, eh."

And one of those most responsible for this giddiness is the Capitals' general manager, 35-year-old David Poile.

The Whiz Kid.

Poile was all of 33 when he got the job and best known -- despite 10 years of administrative seasoning with the Atlanta and Calgary Flames -- as the son of Bud, the former NHL player, coach and general manager. Nice work if you can get it.

Young Poile was not on the scene two weeks when he made the trade that made the franchise: sending team captain (and the owner's personal fave) Ryan Walter and Rick Green to Montreal for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Craig Laughlin and Doug Jarvis. By the end of the season, the Capitals were in the playoffs for the first time, Langway was voted the NHL's best defenseman and, P.S., the Whiz Kid was voted the NHL's top executive.

Poile didn't stop there. Before the start of the next season he kept up his Monty Hall pace, by trading a first-round draft choice for Dave Christian, then by dealing off Dennis Maruk, the only 60-goal scorer the Capitals ever had. The team responded in typical style, losing its first seven games. No big deal. The Whiz Kid played shake-'em-up, trading Engblom and Ken Houston to L.A. for Larry Murphy, age for youth, straight up. Engblom was 28; Murphy, 22. Over the rest of the season, the Capitals' record was 48-21-5. Langway won his award again. P.S., so did the Whiz.

This season, Poile preferred to play a pat hand. When Charlie Simmer, a top goal scorer, became available for a No. 1 draft pick, Poile passed, even though the Capitals would likely be picking near the back of the pack. Instead, Boston landed Simmer, who has responded with 12 goals and 21 points in 19 games; Poile says he must have seen them all on TV. "He's a terrific scorer," Poile says. "But he'll be 31 at the end of the year. We don't have anyone over 29. The decisions I make aren't for today's game; they're for the long run. We're all judged in the long run. I don't know who our No. 1 pick will be, but last year we drafted 17th and got Kevin Hatcher. Nobody knows Kevin Hatcher yet. But next year, at 19, he'll be 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and he'll play defense for the Washington Capitals for the next 10 years. Minimum. Charlie Simmer will be 32. Are these 60 games worth it?"

(Curious, isn't it, how Poile, barely out of swaddling clothes as a general manager, at 35, would imply that Simmer will be nearing the end as a player, at 32? The NHL lists but 11 active players at 34 or older -- the eldest is Brad Park, 36. One man's ceiling is another man's floor.)

So Poile didn't go for what he calls "the quick fix." But when the Capitals drooped to 6-8-5, he made his move. He sent Dave Shand to the minor league club in Binghamton, N.Y. (A vastly underrated city; I went to school there, so trust me.) One game later, even after the Capitals routed Chicago, 5-0, Poile farmed out Glen Currie and Paul Gardner to Binghamton, and brought up Greg Adams, Dean Evason and Mike McEwen. The Capitals haven't lost since.

There's a message in there somewhere.

"Shand and Currie were great role players for this team last year," Langway said the other night, after Adams got two goals in the Capitals' 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, who were dressed up in their brutal red and green Merry Christmas uniforms. "Suddenly, they're gone. What's that tell you?

"That anybody can go. So you'd better play your best."

When asked about Poile, Langway shook his head slowly, in admiration. "What can I tell you? Everything he's done seems to have worked."

Somewhere, surely, the Whiz was smiling.

"It's significant, yes, that we did it internally, that we didn't trade for more players," Poile said. "For the first time in my three years here, I had the confidence that we had players in our organization who could do the job for us, without going outside."

Is this the end of Let's Make A Deal?

Will it go the way of the annual "Save The Caps" pledge week and telethons?

Poile grinned. "Look, if David Poile, or any general manager, kept making a bunch of trades, you wouldn't say he's outsmarting anyone; you'd say he's with a franchise that's having a lot of problems."

And how many problems do the Capitals have?

What do they need?

"I've been told, and I keep reading, that we need a big goal scorer," Poile said derisively, as if the suggestion was somehow a personal affront. "We could certainly use a top scorer. But we don't have one, so you have to compensate. I wish we had Wayne Gretzky, but we don't. And we still have to play the Edmonton Oilers, and we still have to beat them."

There's nothing they need?

"Doug Flutie," Poile said. "You think he can skate?"

And you, Whiz, anything you want?

"You mean, like fantasy?"

Sure. Fantasy. Let it rip.

"Fantasy? Okay, how about me being a player-g.m.?"

Poile let the words slide off his tongue, then quickly grabbed them back.

"Nah, I'm too old to play on this team."