Bob Carpenter's agent said yesterday that he thinks there might be rival National Hockey League teams willing to sign the Washington Capitals' center, who is now a free agent.

Tuesday, an official of the Montreal Canadiens said his team would like to acquire Carpenter, although the potential losses under compensation rules present a serious drawback.

"That is a major problem, but I think some teams will be willing to take a chance," agent Bob Murray said. "There are not that many 21-year-olds who have scored 53 goals that teams can get."

Because Carpenter is under 24 and has played fewer than five years in the NHL, he is considered a Category One player, thereby falling under the older compensation system. In that system, both the team that signs Carpenter and the Capitals would propose compensation. If the two teams could not agree on a settlement, the issue would go before an NHL arbitration board, which usually favors the team losing the free agent. Since free agency began in 1982, however, no team has signed a free agent who required compensation.

Murray said he spoke to Capitals General Manager David Poile yesterday but little progress was made on an agreement.

"We're not really any closer," Murray said. "I'd like to say we were, but we're not narrowing the gap at this point. There's still quite a bit of ground between us." Murray declined to say exactly how much ground.

Murray said he thinks the Captials still want to sign Carpenter, who also had 42 assists in 80 regular season games.

"David has expressed a sincere desire to keep Bob in Washington," said Murray. As for Carpenter, Murray said, "He would like to stay if we can get things worked out. He's there and comfortable. The team's been successful and he feels a strong part of that and would like to remain. But, obviously, if another team is willing to pay and Washington won't, then there isn't much choice. It basically becomes Washington's decision. If they want Bob, he'll stay. If not, then he'll move on."

Poile could not be reached for comment yesterday.