The future has been clearer for the Washington Capitals, but Dino Ciccarelli would like to remain a part of it, to have another chance to be the leading scorer for a franchise that has been through some tough times.

"I know I'll have to face a lot of negative publicity and I'll deal with it," Ciccarelli said. "My numbers have been there on a consistent basis. My backbone is wide. You've got to persevere. Obviously, management can do whatever it wants to do. All I'm doing is trying to prepare and get ready for the season. I'm very happy living in Washington."

With the June player draft a memory and and training camp more than a month off, July is when hockey people generally take vacations. Some teams close down their offices for part of the month.

The Washington Capitals do not, but General Manager David Poile had planned to spend last week in Paris with his wife, Elizabeth. But instead of strolling the Champs Elysees, Poile was stepping through another crisis, another highly charged situation in a seven-month period that has had several, though not all bad: a brother-for-brother coaching change, a trip to the Stanley Cup semifinals, the accusations of sexual assault against some players, the departure of defenseman Scott Stevens via free agency and the trade of left wing Geoff Courtnall.

"I'm hoping to take this week off," Poile said without much certainty Friday afternoon, after the news conference announcing the trade of Courtnall to St. Louis for center Peter Zezel and defenseman Mike Lalor.

There still is uncertainty around the franchise and its near future. The D.C. Superior Court grand jury decided not to indict any of the players -- Ciccarelli, Stevens, Courtnall or Neil Sheehy -- implicated by a 17-year-old girl who told police she was sexually assaulted in a limousine outside Champions bar in Georgetown. The public's perception is much more difficult to judge.

By not matching the four-year, $5.1 million offer the Blues gave Stevens, the Capitals kept their salary structure intact, and they are likely to have the lowest payroll in the NHL next season. The loss of Stevens and Courtnall, the team's second-leading scorer last season, leaves holes in the lineup. Maybe there will be other trades -- an offense-oriented defenseman, especially for the power play, seems the first priority. Maybe the Capitals will go with what they have. But if they falter -- as this team has a habit of doing early in the season -- some of the people who helped them set a franchise record for average attendance (17,251) last season will be clamoring for Poile to spend some of owner Abe Pollin's money to bring in new troops.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Poile said Friday in response to one question, though it applied to several.

The Capitals keep hoping the May incident will dissolve quickly and easily, but they are not unrealistic.

"The thing I find with this issue more than other issues in the news on a regular basis, is that the whole thing is so emotional," Poile said. "People who write to us and call us are filled with emotion. They like the game of hockey and they like the effort expended by players when they play the game. A lot of them have met players in different situations, like families where a son or a daughter got an autograph or a player went out of his way. They almost can't believe this is happening. It's a hard issue to deal with."

A moment later, Poile said: "Everybody has an opinion. First of all there is the legal viewpoint. What will always be there is the moral issue."

In an interview after the grand jury vote, the girl said she and her attorney were considering a civil suit.

"Going back to the legal issue," Poile said, "we haven't said much, nor have the players. Who's to say this is going to go away? It's probably not going to go away."

Though Poile said he thought Stevens was more inclined to sign with another team because he was implicated, Stevens said the money was so great that there was no question he would take it. Courtnall, however, asked to be traded. Poile said right wing Ciccarelli and defenseman Sheehy want to stay.

Sheehy could not be reached for comment, though he had expressed that sentiment on the day of the grand jury announcement. Ciccarelli, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure when he played for Minnesota, said yesterday he wants to remain and is ready, if not eager, to take the heat.

"Geoff decided he didn't want to put up with the situation," Ciccarelli said by phone from his home in Maryland. "My view is that I've had a lot of good press and now I'm getting some bad press. But when you are a professional athlete, that happens regardless of the situation. Geoff didn't want to handle it. If you can't handle the press, how can you handle the pressure situations in games?"

More than just dealing with the media, Ciccarelli said he understands the situation is embarrassing to his family and the organization.

"I've got responsibilities, first to my family and then the public . . . the fans and all the little kids writing for autographs," he said. "I'm sorry for them. I've got to make it up to them. It's a tough time. I'm sorry for my family and management and what I put them through."

In trying to repair damage -- and retain ticket buyers -- the organizations says it will contact all those who wrote or called to register protests over the incident. Ciccarelli -- one of the players the organization will have present a $10,000 check to Children's Hospital on Thursday -- has made several calls.

"One lady was upset at the start," he said. "We talked it out and I think she had more respect for me generally and that I had called.

"It's just that a lot of things in the media were totally wrong. Different people said lots of different things. We cooperated with the investigation and did everything they wanted us to do. We knew we were innocent. My first priority is my family. I'm married with three kids and I should never have been in that situation. It's time I grew up and took the responsibility for my family and the team. You've got to realize that professional athletes are always in the limelight and under a microscope and have a lot of responsibility."