One "philosophical" chat obviously does not an agreement make as the contract negotiations between the Washington Capitals and holdout defenseman Kevin Hatcher broke off again.

"We're back to square one," said General Manager David Poile, who is unwilling to negotiate until Hatcher reports to training camp.

"We're very discouraged by this," said Ron Salcer, Hatcher's agent.

Salcer said he isn't going to bring his client to camp until he gets a clear sign that significant improvements will be made in Hatcher's contract, which has three years left.

The negotiations with Ron Simon, the agent for free-agent goalie Don Beaupre, are in a better state, if only because the lines of communication are open. But after Simon made another offer yesterday -- which Poile rejected -- the differences between the sides remains great.

The Capitals, who are still looking for their first win in the exhibition season, will face the Boston Bruins tonight at 7:30 in their only exhibition game at Capital Centre.

The season begins just two weeks from yesterday and as Poile said in reference to his defense, "the circumstances are changing."

The defense lost Neil Sheehy for probably three months when he broke his ankle in the second period of Thursday night's 6-4 exhibition loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Orlando, Fla.

That creates a further opening among the depleted corps of defensemen. Looking to take advantage of the situation will be Kent Paynter, Chris Felix, Mark Ferner, Bill Houlder and Bob Babcock, who played mostly in Baltimore last season.

But it also might create a chance for a young player who wasn't expected to show up in a Washington uniform for a couple of years. Because the Capitals have steady defensive-oriented players in Rod Langway, Bob Rouse and Mike Lalor, Hatcher's absence is and will be most felt on the offensive end, particularly on the power play. That is why John Slaney, the Capitals' first-round choice in the June draft, might play in one of the last four exhibition games.

"It's only a possibility, and I will have to talk with the coaches and see what we want to do," Poile said.

This represents a new phase in the process. As late as a few days ago, the Capitals had every intention of sending Slaney back to his junior team in Cornwall after this week, as they did yesterday with Rod Pasma, Chris Longo and Brian Sakic.

Slaney is a gifted skater who moves himself and the puck with grace, but he is only 18.

Scott Stevens played for the Capitals at 18, but he was -- and remains -- a much bigger presence on the ice, capable of handling the physical demands of the NHL. Slaney is about 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds.

Coach Terry Murray, who put about 27 players through a workout at Capital Centre yesterday, hadn't heard about the ending of the Hatcher talks at the conclusion of practice.

"When I've been sitting and fooling around with lines and defensive pairings, it's included Kevin Hatcher," Murray said. "He is still a member of the Washington Capitals. I just hope they can get things worked out."

Poile will be looking around in the next two weeks for goalies and defensemen. Though he declined to give any specifics, Poile did say he spoke with Chicago General Manager Mike Keenan, who has a surplus of goalies.

Poile could also be busy at the NHL Board of Governors meeting early next week in Toronto as most of the general managers will be there.

Teams must decide by next Friday which players they will protect from the Oct. 1 waiver draft. The draft could yield some help.

On Tuesday, Poile called Salcer to talk about another of Salcer's clients, Alan May, who is planning to go to arbitration. From that discussion, came what Poile termed a "philosophical" discussion of Hatcher's situation.

Yesterday, Poile and Salcer spoke again. Poile said he made no financial offer in the Hatcher discussion, and apparently the two are also done negotiating about May.

"We have nothing to talk about," Poile said.

"They are making no attempt to get this done," Salcer said. "David has indicated he is very willing to listen, but that's never been a problem. We're not looking for him to listen. We're looking for him to pay Kevin what he's worth."

As for Sheehy, team physician Richard Grossman was due to operate on the ankle last night. It is a disappointing injury for Sheehy, who is going into the option year of his contract and was hoping to put a turbulent summer behind by having a productive season.

Sheehy was one of four players implicated in the alleged sexual assault of a 17-year-old woman after a party in Georgetown. A grand jury decided not to indict the players.

"I came from a family of nine children, with four sisters," Sheehy said early this week. "There is nothing worse you can do to a woman than rape her. But now, through experience, I've learned that there is nothing worse you can do to a man than falsely accuse him of rape.

"My sisters know me and never questioned me. I was brought up in the same household so they were able to observe me for the first 18 years of my life. I have complete respect for my sisters, as I do all women."