Mike Lalor could be some kind of wonderful in this, his first season with the Washington Capitals. But his kind of wonderful doesn't draw much attention.

"I don't think he will jump out at anybody as far as the offensive aspect of the game," Coach Terry Murray said after yesterday's practice at Mount Vernon. "But that's okay. If he plays a strong defensive game and plays it well, then he will be a valuable member of this team."

A 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman, Lalor came with center Peter Zezel from St. Louis, in the trade for Geoff Courtnall. While Zezel was wanted for his face-off ability, defensive play and scoring (72 points in the regular season) to offset the loss of Courtnall (74 points), Lalor was acquired to help fill the void left by the departure of Scott Stevens.

His contributions will be in the form of defense. Lalor did not score a goal in 78 regular season games (16 assists) and 12 playoff games (two assists). But then Rod Langway didn't score a goal until the fourth game of the Patrick Division finals and the Capitals have found him quite handy to have around.

With the Blues of the Norris Division, Lalor would often draw tough assignments. He would be on the ice when Chicago put out Denis Savard and Steve Larmer, when Detroit fielded Steve Yzerman and Gerard Gallant or when Toronto sent out Vincent Damphousse and Daniel Marois.

"He is a defensive defenseman, who does all the little things that have to be done in order to play the game successfully," said Murray, who recognizes Lalor is adjusting to a new team with new expectations.

"I have better understanding today than I did two weeks ago, and two weeks from now, I'm sure I'll have little better understanding," Lalor said.

The trade, itself, did not bother him.

"The only thing that isn't so great is that I haven't been able to sell my house," said Lalor.

Lalor and his wife, Leeanne, had bought the house in the St. Louis suburb of Brentwood in June 1989 -- five months after he was traded to the Blues from Montreal. Besides the real estate problems, another trade so soon can make one wonder.

"Sure, you think about it," Lalor said. "There is always a concern about why a team doesn't want you, but you can always look at it from the positive side, that you're going to a team that does. Otherwise they wouldn't have made the trade."

Lalor is an American by birth. But Mike Sr. and Anne Lalor make their home in Fort Erie, Ontario, about 20 miles from Niagara Falls. Anne Lalor went across the border to Buffalo to have her son -- the youngest of three children -- and, as Mike Jr. said, "declared me at customs coming back."

Lalor, 27, played two seasons of junior hockey in Brantford, Ontario, but was not drafted. He got a tryout with Montreal in 1983 and was signed to an American Hockey League contract. After two seasons in the AHL, he played three full seasons with the Canadiens. The Canadiens traded him to the Blues on Jan. 16, 1989, for a 1991 third-round choice and the right to switch places in the first round of the 1990 draft.

"It gave me an opportunity to play a lot, be a regular and to be counted on," said Lalor. He played about 60 of 80 games in each of three seasons with Montreal, but does have a Stanley Cup ring. "Instead of being a sixth or seventh defenseman in Montreal, I moved up to one of the top four in St. Louis."

Capitals Notes: Kelly Miller, who sprained his knee in Saturday's 6-3 victory over Boston, said he might resume skating soon. . . .

No movement has been reported in negotiations with holdout defenseman Kevin Hatcher and free agent goalie Don Beaupre.

The Capitals have apparently offered Hatcher about $400,000 a year, but they want another year tacked on the contract, which has three years left. Ron Salcer, Hatcher's agent, is apparently seeking between $600,000 and $650,000, which over four years would amount to $2.4 to $2.6 million.

Salcer has declined to reveal his demands, in part because if the contract is going to be for four years he wants a "complicated" system of incentives that would put Hatcher among the half-dozen top-paid defensemen.

Indications are that Beaupre and the Capitals are about $125,000 apart. Apparently, the Capitals have offered about $275,000 a year to Beaupre, who made $225,000 last season.

Beaupre's agent, Ron Simon, said he has not heard lately from any other teams interested in bidding on Beaupre. Simon and Beaupre seek a deal that would pay him at least $400,000. Though they may come down, Beaupre isn't likely to sign with another team for much less. But to sign him at $400,000, another team would have to give the Capitals the same compensation Stevens brought, which is two No. 1 picks within the top seven overall, or five consecutive first-round picks. . . .

Jack Button, the Capitals' director of personnel and development, has been in Europe the past few days, trying to set up a more extensive system of contacts and scouts. The organization thinks this will be an especially strong year for NHL-caliber players in Finland, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. Button was also going to try to do some more work toward proving the Capitals arguments in the Peter Bondra case. The NHL has not made a final determination on whether Bondra will be eligible to play this season because of his Czech contract. . . .

The goal that Michal Pivonka accidentally scored for Boston Saturday night was only partially accidental. Pivonka said after the game that he thought the puck had already gone into the net and come out, so he was just flipping it back into the goal out of frustration.

"Between periods, I told him to try to put the puck in the other net," Murray said with a laugh, a sign that it is still exhibition season.