John Kordic is a big guy, with menacing eyes and a slightly wild haircut. All in all, he has the look of an enforcer.

The Washington Capitals wanted more muscle, which is why they acquired him Thursday from Toronto. This season, they had seen, for example, Kris King of the Patrick Division-leading New York Rangers pick up where he left off last spring, which was knocking two of the team's most talented players (Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher) out of the playoffs.

"I've been doing it for six years, so it's not a big secret," Kordic said yesterday after his first Capitals' practice. "The physical stuff you can write all you want. I would appreciate it if you leave what happened in the past, in the past. Judge me as I start today."

Fair enough. But a review of history sometimes provides a clearer view of the future. Capitals management certainly did just that before agreeing to the trade. Washington sent a 1991 fifth-round draft pick to the Maple Leafs for Kordic and Paul Fenton, who was immediately shipped to Calgary for Ken Sabourin.

Kordic, who will be 26 in March, was a fourth-round draft pick by Montreal in 1984. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Edmonton spent all or part of four seasons with the Canadiens. Then, on Nov. 7, 1988, he was traded to Toronto for forward Russ Courtnall.

"When I left Montreal, I said some things I shouldn't have said," Kordic said. "I was upset. But what I'll say now is that I was proud to be a Montreal Canadien when I was there. I was proud to be a Toronto Maple Leaf when I was there. They put up with a lot that I did."

There was a suspension for missing a game last March. Last October, Kordic went to the minors and a few weeks later was sent home. He's been in Detroit (where his agent lives) for most of the past seven weeks, with only limited opportunity to work out, so it will probably be a couple weeks before he is ready to play.

"Because he was outspoken and spoke his mind, I guess I respected him for that," said Al Iafrate, who came from Toronto eight days earlier. "It was just a selfish atmosphere. If you were an all-star {like Iafrate}, then you're a jerk. If you spoke your mind {like Kordic}, you were an idiot. If the coach liked you, you were a good guy."

In trying to separate truth from fiction, a reporter mentioned to Kordic news reports or rumors of fights with teammates (goalie Allan Bester in Vancouver), lateness to games, problems with alcohol.

"What happened happened in the past," Kordic said, declining to elaborate. "I'm not going to touch on the past. As far as the Washington Capitals are concerned, what happened is over with. It didn't happen here. It can't happen here and it's not going to happen here."

The Capitals have made that abundantly clear to Kordic, to the rest of the team and to reporters. The organization wants to win, but it realizes it's had some bad public relations recently. Rarely does a general manager discuss with a team why he acquired a player and the expectations of that player, as happened in this case.

"There was no hesitation with that message -- it will be 'See you later,' " Coach Terry Murray said yesterday after practice for today's 12:05 game against the New York Islanders. Kordic will travel next week with the team to blend in and there isn't a plan to have him go to Baltimore. Murray said he went over "guidelines" for how to fit in.

"Not to be too outspoken or overwhelm anyone with his actions in the dressing room, or try to make himself too visible," Murray said. "Maybe it's a time to get himself in condition, watch how others react to situations and show people he's determined to contribute."

Director of Personnel and Recruitment Jack Button, General Manager David Poile and Murray met with Kordic in separate interviews before the deal was done. Murray said it was one-sided, with him just asking questions.

"He asked me everything," Kordic said. "He wanted to know and you can't blame him. I had to realize that twenty other teams didn't take a chance on me. I was sitting around for seven weeks. That opens a guy's eyes to the idea that he's not wanted around the league. I'm grateful to Washington for giving me another chance. I'm not going to let them down, or let my teammates down. Most of all, I won't let myself down."

Capitals Notes: It appears defenseman and captain Rod Langway, who has missed five games with back spasms, will miss at least a few more. "We'll see in three or four days," Murray said. . . . Iafrate on his great move for his first goal as a Capital in Friday night's 2-2 tie with Minnesota: "Playing 5,000 games since you were five years old, it happens naturally." Iafrate on the crowd: "Almost any city in the States is louder. The only loud building in Canada is in Montreal. All the fans are hockey experts, or so they think." . . . Peter Bondra (shoulder) may return to the lineup today. . . . Capitals are 3-0 against the Islanders this season. Capitals visit Long Island Thursday after a trip to Pittsburgh Tuesday.