LAKE PLACID, N.Y., SEPT. 10 -- Mike Richard, the leading scorer last season for the Washington Capitals' farm team in Baltimore, has decided to play in Switzerland this season.

Richard, who turned 24 in July, had played out the option of his contract and was a free agent subject to compensation.

"He was offered a lot more money than he was going to get here," Capitals General Manager David Poile said. "I think his goal is to still play in the NHL and I guess he is hoping to improve his skills and quickness."

The Capitals will retain the NHL rights to Richard, a 5-foot-10, 194-pound center. If Richard had signed with the Capitals, it's likely he would have again played in Baltimore. The only likely opening at center is on the fourth line and Richard is more of a scorer -- at least at the minor league level. Last season he played just three games with the Capitals, and later injured his knee. Food for Thought

Trainer Stan Wong accompanies the team everywhere, but he has help in the health department this week. Strength and conditioning coordinator Frank Costello and nutritionist Pat Mann are also on duty. As players finished their off-ice workouts with Costello today (following the on-ice practice), Mann was pushing and preaching fresh fruits: bananas, oranges, apples and grapes. She's already a favorite customer at the Grand Union here.

She said players are getting better at eating the right foods and some are even teaching the others. Costello also complimented the team on its offseason conditioning.

"Every year they've gotten better," Costello said. "It started with young guys like {John} Druce years ago and snowballed."

The offseason programs involved weightlifting, running and specific flexibility exercises.

"We tried to individualize the programs more in the past year," Costello said. "For example, I talked with Steve Leach and we wanted him to work on his mobility and flexibily, especially in his upper body."

Houlder Reports

Defenseman Bill Houlder, a free agent until signing a contract on Sunday, reported for practice. He signed a one-year deal, with an option year, for about $140,000 a year, according to a source. . . .

Centers Michal Pivonka and Mike Ridley have decided to play out the option years in their contracts, bringing the total in the organization to 14.

Meanwhile, goalie Don Beaupre remains unsigned and Kevin Hatcher's holdout reached its fourth day with no prospect of a resolution.

"They offered Scott Stevens a double eagle {one-year} contract at $460,000," Hatcher's agent, Ron Salcer said. "We'll take that. We'll take that deal at $300,000."

Poile, who isn't talking with Salcer, dismissed the idea, maintaining that any renegotiation would include an extention to Hatcher's current deal, which has three years left.