So now we learn that Peter Bondra and Michal Pivonka have set up light housekeeping in a residence hotel in Detroit while they play minor league hockey for the Vipers. I guess they have one of those little refrigerators and a microwave oven and an ironing board that drops out of the pantry. I imagine they're sort of a cross between Felix and Oscar and those wild and crazy Czech brothers, Gheorghe and Yortuk Festrunk.

"It's your turn to cook tonight, Bonzai."

"Oh, no, Pivo. I made the cabbage last night. Have you forgotten you promised to roll the pierogi?"

"Ya! You're right, Bonzai. And I'd better get started soon, because two American foxes are coming over tonight to show us how to use our VCR. We can sit and watch the highlights of our fabulous goals against the sniveling competition in the International Hockey League, like the Minnesota Moose and the L.A. Ice Dogs."

I mean, is this pathetic, or what?

What are these two meatballs doing, living out of a suitcase and playing for the Detroit Vipers?

The Vipers?

Is the mascot an old man who stands up and shouts, "Let me in, I am the viper. Let me in, I am the viper. I came to vipe your vindows"?

You know how it works for the Red Wings after goals, when fans come flying down the aisles to heave an octopus onto the ice. When the Vipers score, do fans fling snakes out there? What if Bondra and Pivonka get bitten? (That sounds more like a Bullets injury than a Caps injury, doesn't it? Like with Mark Price having to miss the preseason because he has a bad foot. That is so typical of the Bullets, to trade for someone whose foot feels just fine until he has to use it; I mean, I read where his foot felt swell during the summer, propped up on an ottoman. Then, first practice and bang-o, he's got a boo-boo again. It's too bad Price actually has to use his feet to play basketball. It would have been a great trade if Price were an archer. Is it too late for the Bullets to get a consultation with Dr. Scholl? I was amused to read where John Nash said that keeping Price out of all preseason activity was "the cautious approach." I'll say it's cautious. The only approach more cautious would be if they'd announced Price's retirement.)

I've read the stories about the back-and-forth between David Poile and the agent, Richard "Nuclear" Winter, who talks pretty tough when it's about someone else's money. And I've read about Pivonka wanting $7.5 million, and the Caps offering $4.5 million. And Bondra wanting over $10 million, with incentives, and the Caps offering $6.25 million. And Poile taking the deal off the table. And yata yata yata.

What am I missing here? Do you mean to tell me that if the Capitals come up a little bit (as they surely will), Pivonka and Bondra will keep holding out? Keep playing minor league hockey? Keep walking into their little residence hotel hoping for a chocolate on the pillow?

Wise up, gentlemen. You can sign contracts for millions of dollars, or you can stay in Detroit and cook your meager meals on a hot plate.

Make sure to write and let us know how the boiled potatoes taste.

And now, for all of you who want to make an analogy to Chris Webber getting scadoolians of dollars the other day, and the Caps holding firm against these two. You're wondering why it's different when these two guys hold out? Well, here is the difference:

Chris Webber puts fannies in the seats.

Petey Bondra and Mikey Pivonka don't.

The Caps haven't had anybody who genuinely excited the crowd since Dino Ciccarelli.

Maybe this Carey kid will do it. Maybe the cute Frenchman, Juneau.

Not Petey or Mikey. Jaromir Jagr, they ain't.

There is no divine right to millions in sports -- particularly a sport without a formidable TV contract. If I'm the Caps, why would I budge much? We've already been mediocre with Bondra and Pivonka. So what if we're mediocre without them?

As for Bondra deserving superstar money for being the NHL's top goal scorer last season, well, that was really a half-season, because of the lockout. Maybe Bondra got lucky. He had 34 goals in 47 games; the season before he had 24 goals in 69 games. Maybe he's Brett Hull. And maybe he's Cordell Hull. Whoever Bondra is, though, he's surely worth more than Pivonka, who hasn't had as productive a career as the Caps expected. It's obvious Bondra feels most comfortable playing with Pivonka. Or else why attach himself to Pivonka's holdout? This isn't Koufax and Drysdale. It's more like Carlton and McCarver.

(Oh, I have this pressing question: You know how we are constantly abbreviating nicknames to words of one syllable -- or less. So the Expos become the Spos, the Astros become the Stros, the Mariners become the Ms, the Dolphins become the Fins, the Penguins become the Pens, the Nordiques became the Nords. The Nords? So which is it, the Ava or the Lanche?)

The first round of this fight went to Poile. Poile had to be the happiest guy in the USAir Arena on Saturday when the Caps scored four goals without Bondra and Pivonka; 65 times a year the Caps don't get two goals with them. Nothing will get Bondra and Pivonka to the table like the Caps scoring in bunches. (You saw how rapidly Juwan Howard came in after the Bullets got off 4-1, and brought in his pal Webber.) We may see the other side of the coin tonight, though, if the Caps get shellacked in Philadelphia. Winter's gamble for Pivonka and Bondra is that the Caps start off something like 2-7-2 and can't put the puck in the ocean, so sportswriters and fans start agitating for Poile to up the ante. My personal opinion is that Bondra and Pivonka, who genuinely like living here, will be back and signed within a week, viping the slate clean as it were. CAPTION: Peter Bondra, above, and Michal Pivonka are playing with the Vipers of the International Hockey League.