There is a good chance the lights will be burning bright late into tonight on the second floor of the Capital Centre office building where Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile must decide whether life will be better with or without a much richer Scott Stevens.

The Capitals have until midnight to match the multimillion-dollar offer sheet Stevens signed last week with the St. Louis Blues. Although generally angered by this situation, Poile joked that he told the office employees to bring their sleeping bags to work.

"I have not decided anything yet," he said late yesterday.

He can re-sign Stevens and keep him on the squad, although Poile then would have to deal with a greatly distorted salary structure. He can re-sign Stevens and trade him to any team except the Blues. Or he can let the deadline pass and take the compensation, which is $100,000 and the Blues' first-round draft picks in 1991 and 1992.

If those picks are not within the top seven overall, the Capitals would also get the Blues' first-round picks in '93, '94, and '95. If he elects to take the draft picks, he probably will have to trade for another defenseman.

He has completed trades 10 minutes before the deadline, so it makes some sense for him to wait to see if Stevens attracts any late interest. And by waiting, he makes the Blues sweat a bit more for their decision, which will affect salaries throughout the NHL.

Sources say the offer sheet calls for Stevens to get a signing bonus of $1.4 million. In yearly salary, he would earn $775,000 next season, $875,000 in 1991-92 and $975,000 in 1992-93. Teams must give a 15 percent raise (based on the previous year's salary) to players entering their option year in order to retain rights to compensation. Because of that, Stevens would receive $1.12 million in his option year, 1993-94. Spread over four years, the deal would be worth an average of about $1.28 million per season.

"If {Poile} has a fiscal problem with the compensation {due Stevens}, then he better have a deal in place when he matches it," said another general manager.

"David is a thorough guy," said an official from another team. "He will know what he can get if he signs and trades Stevens."

Stevens, 26, has played eight NHL seasons, all with the Capitals. His best season was 1987-88, when he had 72 points, was named a first-team all-star and was third in the Norris Trophy voting for the NHL's top defenseman.

Last season he missed 24 games -- mostly due to injury -- and finished with 11 goals and 29 assists. This contract will make him the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL.

Detroit has shown a willingness to spend money and there are reports there that former Capitals coach Bryan Murray may become the Red Wings' general manager. Yesterday Jim Devellano was moved from general manager to senior vice president for drafts, player development and the minor league team.

Poile said yesterday he had spoken with 18 of the other 20 general managers, but would not say how many were calling to commiserate and how many were talking deals. The Blues' Ron Caron called, but Poile would not discuss the tone or topic of the conversation.

Asked earlier in the week if he was bothered enough by the Blues' move to try to trade Stevens to another Norris Division team, Poile said: "I'm bothered sufficiently by it, because it makes for a difficult situation that I have to handle. But any decision I make will be for what's best for the Washington Capitals, with no prejudice toward a club or an individual player."