With the start of the regular season a day away, the Washington Capitals continued their efforts to bolster their defensive corps by spending hours in negotiation with Kevin Hatcher's agent, Ron Salcer, yesterday and by acquiring Joel Quenneville from Hartford.

Salcer met twice yesterday with Capitals President Dick Patrick and owner Abe Pollin. There was no agreement on a new deal for Hatcher -- and thus no assurance he will play in Friday night's season-opener against Pittsburgh -- but the group will reconvene this morning to continue negotiations.

Meanwhile, goalie Don Beaupre showed up for his first practice and, although a bit rusty, did enough to impress Coach Terry Murray.

The Penguins will be the opponents for the opener at Capital Centre and they will be without star center Mario Lemieux, whose ailing back has knocked him out of the lineup indefinitely.

Washington captain Rod Langway has some painful back history too. Most recently, he experienced spasms that kept him out of two days of practice. Langway did practice yesterday morning at Mount Vernon Recreation Center, but left early.

"It's just a day-to-day thing," Murray said.

Langway's back is just part of the reason for acquiring Quenneville, a 32-year-old stay-at-home defenseman. The Capitals owe the Whalers "future considerations."

"My philsophy on this is you do what you've got to do," General Manager David Poile said. "With {Neil} Sheehy breaking his ankle, Rod's back acting up, Kevin holding out and Scott {Stevens} going to St. Louis, I just need to make sure we have enough depth in defensive situations. That's the hardest position to fill."

The Capitals had been on a youth kick for about 18 months. But in the last few months, the trades have been for older players. And by now Poile probably has Hartford General Manager Ed Johnston's phone number punched into his speed calling system. First came Mike Liut, then Dave Tippett on Sunday before Quenneville.

"We took a look at the organization and saw that some of the young players need some more playing time," Murray said. "Looking at {1990 first-round pick John} Slaney, he's not ready. It buys you some time and we also get a good veteran."

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Quenneville is 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds. He was a regular -- and alternate captain -- with the Whalers for six seasons. Last season, when it became apparent Hartford was not going to challenge for the Adams Division title, it decided to use younger players.

So Quenneville played just 44 games last season. He had one goal, four assists, 34 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of plus-9. He will be the sixth defensman here.

Hatcher, meanwhile, has three years (including an option) left on his contract, which is supposed to pay him $200,000 this season.

The negotiations for a new deal reached an impasse when Hatcher did not report to training camp. The Capitals hated the idea of a player with a contract holding out, but they knew they needed him. So Patrick called Salcer Sunday.

"I received assurances from Mr. Patrick and Mr. Pollin that fruitful negotiations would occur," Salcer said. So Hatcher reported Tuesday.

"We made it very clear that David had very strong feelings, as did Abe, that Kevin had a contract and should be here," Patrick said. "At the same time, all three of us expressed a willingness to discuss the situation and to recognize that the market had changed and an adjustment was justified.

"It just appeared that a way to get things resumed would be to expand the meetings and get all of us focused on that."

Poile, who usually handles all negotiations, said: "What had gone on in the past wasn't getting the job done. We are an organization and we're all trying to work out Kevin Hatcher's contract situation so that it will be agreeable to both Kevin Hatcher and the Capitals."

Patrick said he thought they were making progress, although he said today's discussion did not involve numbers so much as where Hatcher ranks among the league's defensemen. Patrick, who would still like to add a year to the contract, said figures might be a part of today's talks.

"Geographically, we're a lot closer," Salcer said with a laugh at midday. "Contractually, by virtue of the fact that we've gotten encouraging remarks, I feel we're closer. . . . "

At last count, there was still $200,000 to $250,000 a year separating the sides, although bonuses could help make up the difference. Murray said he would have Hatcher in the lineup if Hatcher agrees to play, but it is possible Hatcher could rethink his position and walk.

"That's correct," Salcer said. "I'm just taking one day at a time and talking to Mr. Patrick and Mr. Pollin. I'm hopeful that it all gets worked out. If I feel like they are definitely heading in the right direction, I don't see a problem with him playing."