Washington Capitals center Dale Hunter was suspended for four games yesterday by the National Hockey League for a check he delivered to Philadelphia's Gord Murphy on Feb. 10.

Hunter's suspension will begin a week from today when the Capitals face the New York Islanders. Hunter will then miss the following three games against Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

"There is no dispute that Hunter deliberately struck his opponent with an elbow that must be characterized as vicious and that he was fully aware of what he was doing," NHL Executive Vice President Brian O'Neill said in a statement yesterday. "It is also clear that he did not show any restraint at the time he administered the blow. In handing down this decision the League is stating that players must be responsible for their actions and when excessive measures are used in fouling an opponent they can expect severe penalties."

Not only does Hunter lose pay for four games, but his streak of consecutive games played, now at 272, will end.

"At the most, I thought it would be one or two" games, Hunter said before the Capitals played the Rangers last night.

Hunter and the Capitals have seven days in which to appeal, but General Manager David Poile said the team would not exercise that option. Appeals of such decisions are almost never overturned and the Capitals would have to bear the cost of bringing the NHL board of governors together to consider the matter.

"You look for consistency in rulings, whether it be with our team or other teams," Poile said. "It doesn't seem to be as fair and consistent as it could be."

Poile cited the example of New Jersey's Laurie Boschman, who slashed Dino Ciccarelli, fracturing his thumb. Ciccarelli missed 21 games, and Boschman was not penalized for the Oct. 20 incident. "I find it hard to accept that that type of thing is not penalized equally, or at all, especially when the player is injured and out of action," said Poile. "Being injured or missing games should not be the only criteria but as Brian O'Neill was saying, it is part of the investigation. The {Hunter} hit looked worse than it really was in terms of physical force. That was backed up by the fact that Murphy never missed a shift."

The seven days allows the Capitals to have some choice in which games Hunter misses. The suspension could have started last night, but then Hunter would have missed four straight Patrick Division games. By starting it next week, he will miss just one division game.

"They are all big games, and when someone of Dale's caliber is healthy you always want them in the lineup," said Coach Terry Murray. "But this way he can play four division games which are critical to our season."