Dale Hunter said yesterday he plans to announce his retirement Thursday, ending a 19-year career as a player, and join the Washington Capitals' department of player development.

On the ice at Piney Orchard yesterday, Hunter wore a Capitals jacket identical to the ones worn by assistant coaches Tim Army and Tim Hunter, who were running the rookie camp workout.

"I'm definitely retiring, I guess that's obvious," Hunter said. "I'll be working with the Capitals. Most scouts work on finding players for the next draft, but a lot of teams are starting to have guys help out the guys who are already drafted because they are so young. A lot of them still have two years of junior [hockey] left, so they need something."

Hunter declined to comment further about retiring, saying, "I'll say more on Thursday."

Hunter finished last season with Colorado after spending the past 12 seasons with Washington, four as team captain.

The Capitals, meanwhile, announced they have signed free agent right wing Joe Sacco, whom the New York Islanders chose not to re-sign. Terms were not disclosed, but Sacco's agent, Bob Murray, said it is a one-year deal. Sacco earned $700,000 with the Islanders last season.

"We were looking for a player to improve our team speed and, in particular, our penalty killing," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "We feel we have that in Joe Sacco."

Sacco, 30, played 73 games for the Islanders last season, registering three goals and no assists.

"Last year was kind of an off year for me and the [Islanders], so I am looking at this as a fresh start," Sacco said.

Sacco was Toronto's fourth pick in the 1987 NHL draft but was claimed by Anaheim in the 1993 expansion draft. His most productive offensive seasons came while playing for the Mighty Ducks and then-coach Ron Wilson, now the Capitals' head coach. Sacco averaged 13.5 goals in four full seasons with Anaheim before being traded to the Islanders in 1998.

"We're certainly looking forward to Joe playing for us next season," Wilson said. "He has had several really good years in this league and he is still one of the fastest skaters around. Joe has always possessed a good work ethic and is very reliable in the defensive end of the ice."

Sacco said playing for Wilson again was a factor in his decision to sign.

"When you play for somebody for a while, he knows what you can do -- your strengths and weaknesses, so that makes your job a little easier," he said.