Center Bob Carpenter, who took a chance by playing out his option with the Washington Capitals last season, reaped the reward yesterday when he signed a four-year contract believed to be worth about $1.3 million.

"Bobby Carpenter gambled and he won; I hope he wins again," General Manager David Poile said at Tantallon Golf and Country Club, where the team participated in golf and tennis tournaments benefiting the Special Olympics before today's formal opening of training camp at the Mount Vernon Ice Rink.

"I couldn't be happier," Carpenter said. "At the beginning of the summer, we (Carpenter and agent Bob Murray) kind of outlined a plan and we pretty much got it. It was a long summer for a lot of people, but at the end it all worked out. I want to thank (owner) Abe Pollin. He was really generous and I'm grateful to him. I just wish it could have been done a few days ago, so there wouldn't be so much rush."

After Murray and Poile made substantial progress Sunday, Carpenter left his home in Peabody, Mass., at 11 p.m. Sunday and drove all night to be present yesterday. Poile said the last details were ironed out at 10:30 a.m.

Although both sides declined to reveal the monetary figures, Poile said Carpenter ranked with the highest-paid players in "his category," mentioning other young centers such as Denis Savard, Dale Hawerchuk and Mark Messier.

Carpenter apparently will rival defenseman Rod Langway as the highest-paid Capitals player, although Langway's contract contains more incentive clauses. Poile said Carpenter's contract had no bonuses either for individual scoring or for Stanley Cup success.

The final stumbling block to be negotiated was the length of the contract. Poile wanted to tie up Carpenter for eight years, but finally yielded to three, plus an option year.

"I think in four years I'll be a better player, and I'll have a lot more bargaining power after four years than after eight" said Carpenter, who as a 53-goal scorer at age 22 commanded plenty this time.

Poile said, "The negotiations were difficult and complicated, but the key point was that we made a decision to sign Bobby Carpenter. All we talked about last year was finding a 50-goal scorer and when we got two (Carpenter and Mike Gartner), we certainly couldn't let them get away.

"Bobby earned the right by playing out his option to see what the market would bear. I was concerned about the possibility that he might go elsewhere, because it was something we didn't control. I know two or three teams for sure that should have had a strong interest in Bobby.

"When I was approached by other teams, I refused to discuss compensation and gave out a strong feeling that we would sign Bobby. If my approach scared them off, then it was helpful to our cause and I'm glad I pursued it.

"I'm also glad he will be here for the start of training camp. There might have been psychological damage if Bobby was not joining the team tomorrow. Obviously, it would have created problems for the coaches, too."

Carpenter, who appeared looking fit and weighing a solid 200 pounds following six weeks of workouts in Massachusetts, said he never was interested in playing elsewhere.

"I really wanted to come back here," Carpenter said. "Washington was my No. 1 choice, by far. Of course, when negotiations go on so long, at times you get frustrated and talk to other teams. And you know in this business you may have to leave some time. But I've been happy here for four years and I think we're going to be a very good team.

"We have to learn from our failures in the playoffs. We have to build character. We've had bad playoffs and now it's time to move ahead. We had a little bit of bad luck last year, but I think we'll go far this time."

Carpenter said he did not expect any jealousy on the part of lower-paid teammates.

"If someone goes and did what I did, I'd be happy for him," Carpenter said. "It can only help you. When Roddy (Langway) got that big contract last year, it helped me."

Coach Bryan Murray said that he planned to reunite Carpenter and Gartner, after he had shifted them to different lines during last year's playoffs. The selection of a left wing for them will be one of the major projects during the upcoming camp.

"We need a guy with speed who is physical enough to muck in the corners," Murray said. "We need more than a tough guy. No question, that will be a key line for us."

Yesterday's outdoor news conference under a bright sun attracted only a handful of media representatives, despite Carpenter's status as the top United States-born goal scorer in NHL history. It was in sharp contrast to the one four years ago at Capital Centre, when the signing of an untried high-school boy was the stimulus for a coat-and-tie affair with elaborate raw bar that drew congressmen from Massachusetts and Maryland, as well as a representative from the White House.