Defenseman Scott Stevens of the Washington Capitals yesterday signed a reported three-year offer sheet with the St. Louis Blues worth a million dollars a year.

The 26-year-old Stevens, who played out his option last season, will become the fifth million-dollar-a-year player in hockey.

The Capitals have one week to decide whether to match the Blues' offer and keep Stevens; or they can match the offer and trade him; or they can let Stevens go and receive substantial compensation in the form of first-round draft choices.

Capitals General Manager David Poile, who learned of the Blues' action when the Capitals received a fax from National Hockey League Central Registry yesterday, declined to confirm the salary figures, but said Stevens had obtained "a very high offer, one that would make him one of the higher-paid players in the NHL."

If the Capitals do not choose to match the offer, they will receive as compensation from the Blues two first-round draft picks in the next three years, both of which must be among the top seven selections. If St. Louis is unable to supply those picks, it would be required to give Washington five first-round picks over six years.

Stevens was involved in an incident on May 12 in which a 17-year-old female told police that four members of the Capitals sexually assaulted her in a limousine outside a Georgetown bar after a season-ending party. The players -- Dino Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall, Neil Sheehy and Stevens -- all denied the charge and last Friday, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury voted not to indict them.

On Friday, Stevens said through his attorney, Earl Silbert, that "during the investigation the government told me that I was merely a witness, as were others. I was interveiwed by government authorities and voluntarily appeared before the grand jury."

If the Capitals allow Stevens to accept the Blues' offer without matching it, it would be the first time a player of Stevens's caliber has made such a dramatic move. NHL players have for years complained about a lack of movement, such as what regularly occurs in major league baseball and professional basketball.

When NHL salaries were revealed in February, the Blues had the lowest payroll in the NHL. However, they recently signed right wing Brett Hull to a three-year contract worth $6 million. At the same time, they raised ticket prices across the board from $4 to $6 per ticket. The only other million-dollar players are Wayne Gretzky of Los Angeles, Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh and Mark Messier of Edmonton.

Although only 26, Stevens has spent nine seasons with the Capitals. He currently is earning $300,000 a year, so the new contract, regardless of where he winds up, will more than triple his salary.

"We're in uncharted ground here," Poile said. "Scott is the first player in his compensation category to do this. There is no history to relate to. We have a lot of decisions to make in the next week and I plan to talk to a lot of people, both in and out of the organization, before we reach a decision."

Poile said he never had discussed a trade for Stevens, so part of his time will be devoted to tracking down vacationing colleagues so that he can evaluate the defenseman's market value.

The Capitals have not had a draft pick in the top seven since they chose Stevens fifth in 1981.

Although he could not be reached by The Washington Post, Stevens told WRC-TV-4: "The fans here have been great, but this offer is generous and I had to take it. I look forward to playing in St. Louis."