Despite frequent and lengthy telephone conversations between Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile and Bob Carpenter's Boston-based agent Bob Murray, there remains a wide gap -- perhaps as much as $150,000 a year -- between the two sides in the free-agent center's contract negotiations.

Murray did say yesterday, however, that progress was made during conversations in Washington last Friday involving him, Poile and Dick Patrick, the Capitals' president.

"We discussed different numbers and different proposals, and some progress was made," Murray said. "It's primarily money, although length of contract has become a bit of an issue. We're looking for a little bit shorter term, but I think we can settle that if we can get the money issue resolved."

Murray and Poile have continued to negotiate by telephone. They talked three times Monday, and Murray said they expected to talk at least twice a day for the rest of the week. It has made for a less than relaxing vacation for Poile, who is spending the week at Rehoboth Beach with his family.

Neither Murray nor Poile would reveal the figures that have been discussed, but other National Hockey League sources, on the basis of Murray's attempts to shop Carpenter around the league, put the asking price at $400,000 a year. Poile is believed to be offering about $250,000, which leaves a considerable gap.

The average NHL salary is $152,000, the median $120,000. Complicating matters have been some recent out-of-synch contracts settled on untried free agents by the Detroit Red Wings.

"I'm not surprised that this is taking so long to resolve," Poile said yesterday. "The fact that Bob Carpenter played out his option and had one of the best individual seasons in the NHL last year (53 goals) made this a difficult situation, and the Detroit Red Wings' paying high salaries to free agents has not helped."

Poile expressed confidence that something would be worked out before training camp starts Sept. 17.

"I want it to be, because as a manager it would be foolish to have an unsettled situation going into camp," Poile said. "But I don't feel either side can set an ultimatum. Under this form of negotiation, there is no way of taking it to a head, such as arbitration.

"The effort is there to make a deal on both sides. I'm convinced both Carpenter and the Capitals are going to get together. I know we both want to get together.

"I have never asked another club about a trade for Bobby Carpenter. When I was approached by general managers Bob Murray had talked to, to see if I would be willing to make a deal, I said flatly I wasn't interested."

Any team signing Carpenter must either work out a deal with Washington or yield compensation. In the latter case, each team would make a proposal in players, draft choices and money, with an impartial arbitrator choosing one.

Murray said the compensation provision had prevented him from making a deal with another club.

"They're afraid to make that move, because of the risk of the unknown," Murray said. "Free agency in hockey is basically a farce. That's obvious when nobody moves.

"This is as ideal a situation as you can get. Bobby scored over 50 goals and he's young, but he still doesn't have the ability to move. It's clear that the system isn't working if nobody moves."

Murray said he was continuing to talk to other teams, but that no definite negotiations were under way. Carpenter has refused to discuss the negotiations, leaving the comments to Murray.

"Bobby was over in Europe, but he's back in the New England area now, skating and getting in shape," Murray said. "He's hoping he'll be somewhere when training camp opens."