After spending most of this week making player personnel moves, the Washington Capitals hired Declan Bolger to be their senior vice president of business operations, team officials confirmed yesterday.

Bolger, 39, had been the Florida Panthers' vice president of marketing. He created one of the NHL's most innovative marketing schemes in recent years--the Panthers' "Rat Craze" during the team's run to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals. Fans threw plastic rats onto the ice after a goal, a fad the NHL outlawed when it began to delay the games.

Bolger's hiring, first reported in yesterday's editions of the Washington Times, was the latest in a series of additions to the team under new owner Ted Leonsis. In the past week, Washington has added wings Glen Metropolit and Ulf Dahlen and re-signed forward Mike Eagles and left wing Chris Simon.

Hiring Bolger "is an example of a concerted effort by ownership and management to truly hire the brightest human talent in the marketplace," General Manager George McPhee said. "And [Bolger] is the best in the business in marketing."

Bolger takes over promoting a Capitals team that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, but finished 31-46-6 last season. The team's average attendance last season was ninth out of the league's 27 teams.

"To me, it seems pretty clear that Ted has laid down a pretty good vision of what he expects here, and that's, to use his word, a 'fan-centric' operation," Bolger said. "The idea here is to get a start in place to assist in implementing that.

"What I'm concerned with is coming in and saying that everything prior [to Bolger's hiring] was wrong. It's not the case. I need to get a better understanding, which I'm doing all the time. I'll look at what was good, what was bad, and try to improve those."