Bryan Trottier, a key player when the New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, has been released by the NHL team.

"It is without a question the most difficult and painful decision that I have made since starting the franchise in 1972," General Manager Bill Torrey said in a statement yesterday. "However, the time has come for us to create an opportunity for our young center icemen," including Rob DiMaio and Greg Parks, he said. New York will buy out the final two years of Trottier's contract, estimated worth $575,000 annually.

Torrey said he met with Trottier last week to discuss his remaining with the organization in a front-office capacity. "But it was Bryan's wish to continue to play, even if it meant moving to another organization," Torrey said.

Trottier, 33, was not immediately available for comment. He is the Islanders' all-time leading scorer with 1,353 points in 15 years, placing him seventh on the NHL's all-time list. . . .

The Washington Capitals sold forward John Tucker to the Buffalo Sabres. Tucker was obtained from Buffalo Jan. 4 for a draft choice. With the Capitals, he had nine goals and 19 assists.

Tucker was offered a termination contract, giving him the month of June to work out a deal with another team. He couldn't, signing the contract instead, but Washington General Manager David Poile persuaded Buffalo to take him back.

Goaltender Bob Mason also signed a termination contract. He has been placed on waivers by the Capitals and, if he clears, will be paid off at two-thirds the terms of his contract. Mason spent most of last season in Baltimore after being acquired from Quebec for a draft choice.

Defenseman Brian Tutt has elected to play in Norway rather than return under a termination contract. Defenseman Dennis Smith, also offered a termination contract, did not submit it and presumably has other plans.