This week Geoff Courtnall asked the Washington Capitals to trade him. Yesterday he got his request. He's now the bluest Blue.

"I just felt that, under the circumstances, it was too tough to live {in Washington} every day and be under the gun because of the incident," said Courtnall, explaining why he asked the Caps for a trade in the wake of the grand jury declining to indict him and three teammates on charges they were involved in the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl in May.

"On one hand this shows you how much of a fish bowl you're living in. . . . I was disappointed in how this was blown out of proportion. . . . But, for getting yourself in that situation, you have to be willing to suffer the consequences," Courtnall said. "I wasn't sure that it would ever go away here. . . . Now, I'm just putting it all behind me. . . . There's not a lot I can say except 'Goodbye.' "

By contrast, Dino Ciccarelli, who also faced the allegation, has been asking the Capitals for the phone numbers of fans who've been writing the team saying he should be traded. Ciccarelli's response has been to call each critic personally, explaining his side of the incident.

Lew Strudler, the Capitals' director of public relations, said: "Some of the women who've written letters have been amazed when I've called them and said, 'Would you like to speak to {General Manager} David Poile or Dino Ciccarelli?' They often say, 'Give me a half-hour to organize my thoughts, then have him call me.' "

And Ciccarelli calls.

You can run from a problem and hope it doesn't catch you from behind; or you can face it head on. Neither method is necessarily better, although the later has the advantage of sounding noble while the former probably has a better won-lost record.

Courtnall decided to run and start over. Ciccarelli, whose previous legal problem -- he pleaded guilty in Minnesota to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure -- surely has diminished the Capitals' chances of dealing him, has decided to stay and try to restore his reputation.

"I've definitely learned a lot of things, but it's hard to say it in words," Courtnall said yesterday. " . . . Everybody learned a real good lesson. . . . Emotionally, I've felt it the most. Just be real careful in life what you do."

With Ciccarelli, the Capitals have discovered that the market value of their leading scorer is almost nil. He is 30 years old with 10 seasons of NHL scars. He's a good scorer and scrapper and his playoff performance against New Jersey last season was exceptional. But if you trade for him, you'll have a ton of explaining to do to your fans.

Nevertheless, the Capitals have found him to be the most contrite of those involved in the incident.

"He wrote a letter of apology. He has gone everywhere and done everything he could do since this happened," said Poile. "What I can't get out of my mind, because it's so ironic, is that, before this all happened, he owned this town."

While Courtnall packs and Ciccarelli dials for forgiveness, the Capitals' organization tries to regain its most basic bearings. "This has hurt a lot of people. We have to regain trust," said Poile on Thursday night, adding yesterday, "We have to re-represent, on and off the ice, what the Capitals are all about."

For the Capitals, the calendar always seems to read Friday the 13th. Yesterday's doings, however, actually may be remembered as lucky. After all, at the most basic level, who could miss the message? Two gone. Two to go?

Scott Stevens, who was accused of witnessing the alleged incident, and Courtnall, are now St. Louis Blues. Neil Sheehy might not make the Capitals because he isn't a great hockey player. As for Ciccarelli, maybe he can stay as a sort of living lesson and reminder.

After all, for these players, no truly happy ending is possible. No charges were filed; but no awards were given either. It's easier to forgive in theory than it is to forget in fact. A grand jury has made its legal decision. However, the court of public opinion exists, also, to convene on community moral issues. Scarlet letters did not disappear with Hester Prine.

The public isn't primarily concerned with legal definitions. The public has its own sense of a simpler thing: right and wrong. The Capitals have suffered. But have they suffered enough? Some don't think so. A protest march was scheduled for last night in Georgetown by a group angry at the grand jury's lack of an indictment.

Stevens has just signed a four-year contract with St. Louis for $5.1 million -- one of the best deals in NHL history. One reason the Blues could bid so high for Stevens was because they knew the Capitals could not match such an offer and look the rest of their players in the face. How many teams would pay so much for a player in the midst of so much bad publicity?

As a major repercussion of Stevens's contract, every player in the NHL may, in time, end up making more money. The league's salary scale may be knocked for a loop by a contract that would seem to be about twice Stevens's "market value." Capitals Coach Terry Murray speculated yesterday that the Blues may have been counting on, in advance, NHL expansion -- and expansion fees -- to absorb their costs for Stevens and Brett Hull. The Blues' strategy? Get a jump on the league. Win a Stanley Cup. And help themselves get a new arena in St. Louis by proving their financial commitment to their fans.

Courtnall gets a semi-fresh start. "The Washington organization has great people. I appreciate what they've done for me," he said. "I'm sorry this situation arose."

Sheehy, who has told the Capitals that when he gets back to town he will "go anywhere and talk to anybody," will probably have to put his economics degree from Harvard to use a couple of years sooner than expected. Even when you're willing to abase yourself, it helps to score 40 or 50 goals too.

As for Ciccarelli, the team's high scorer, he'd be smart to keep making those tough phone calls. It's called trying to make amends. It's the least he can do.