Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee could face a steep fine and be dealt a lengthy suspension by the NHL for his conduct following a preseason game last Saturday with the Chicago Blackhawks, sources said yesterday.

McPhee spent much of yesterday afternoon in New York meeting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, sources said, and could face a suspension of several months. The NHL likely will announce its action today. Generally, if a team official is suspended it would preclude him from being around the club in any capacity, whether in the office, at the arena or at a practice facility.

The NHL is declining to comment until an announcement is made. The Capitals and Blackhawks have been instructed by the league not to comment, and neither side is speaking.

McPhee confronted Blackhawks Coach Lorne Molleken following the teams' preseason game in Columbus, Ohio. McPhee went to the Chicago dressing room because he was upset with the Chicago coach for using a lineup dominated by players known for their brawling tactics.

According to sources, McPhee and Molleken exchanged heated words, before McPhee struck Molleken in the left eye, starting a scuffle that subsided when police intervened.

The league had been monitoring the Blackhawks throughout the preseason because of fight-filled games. A league official was in attendance Saturday night for that reason, sources said, and McPhee, who has a cast around his right thumb, had tried to preempt the matter by phoning Chicago GM Bob Murray several days before the game about using a lineup with more skill players.

The Capitals pulled their stars from the game when they saw Chicago's lineup and removed several of their more physical players as well, hoping to defuse the situation. Minor leaguer Trevor Halverson, who fought three times, suffered a concussion and is being evaluated by team doctors.

McPhee has apparent support within the organization, including new owner Ted Leonsis and Coach Ron Wilson, who reportedly was fined $5,000 by the NHL for publicly defending McPhee.

Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz voiced his displeasure Sunday about McPhee's actions through spokesman Jim DeMaria: "He said he's quite shocked by the turn of events, because we've always had a very amicable relationship with Washington. . . . If you take on one person in the organization you're taking on everybody, because we're a team."

Chicago defenseman Dave Manson earned a one-game suspension in the game for attempting to injure Steve Konowalchuk.

Leonsis made reference to the incident at the club's media dinner last night, noting the team's new slogan: Always Intense. "You can see our general manager has taken that position," Leonsis said.