Mike McEwen, a free agent who played last season with the Washington Capitals, signed a one-year contract yesterday with the Detroit Red Wings, the team the Capitals earlier this summer accused of tampering with the defenseman.

McEwen, 29, was the third-leading scorer among Capitals defensemen last season and tied for ninth overall with 11 goals and 27 assists in 56 games.

Capitals General Manager David Poile earlier had filed a complaint with the NHL, contending Detroit approached McEwen about a contract before the July 1 deadline.

"We have filed tampering charges and now that (the signing) is official, it's in the hands of the NHL," Poile said. "We feel certain Detroit talked to Mike before the deadline."

Should the league rule there was no tampering, the Red Wings would owe Washington no compensation for signing McEwen.

McEwen, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, played for three New York Islanders teams that won the Stanley Cup. He also has been a member of the New York Rangers, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Kings in his nine-year NHL career.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Poile. "I think Mike was good for the Washington Capitals and the Washington Capitals were good for him."

After playing his junior hockey for the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association, McEwen was the Rangers' third choice in the 1976 NHL entry draft.

McEwen was traded to Colorado in November 1979 and played parts of two seasons for the Rockies before being acquired by the Islanders in March 1981. He went to Los Angeles in November 1983, then to Washington last August.

"He certainly helped our power play last year and, from that standpoint, he could be missed," Poile said. "To change the negative to a positive, it gives us a chance to give more ice time to our better players like Larry Murphy and Darren Veitch.

"It also leaves the door open for Kevin Hatcher (Washington's first-round draft choice in 1983) to make our hockey club and we're certainly pointing toward that. With all-stars like Rod Langway and Scott Stevens, we're in an excellent position to put a 19-year-old like Hatcher on the ice."

Negotiations with the Capitals' other free agent, center Bob Carpenter, will continue sometime this week, Poile said.