The Washington Capitals picked up Boston winger Joe Murphy off waivers today, one week after the Bruins suspended him indefinitely for screaming profanities at Coach Pat Burns.

Murphy, 32, was signed as an unrestricted free agent by Boston this season. Murphy and agent Jay Fee have filed a grievance over last week's incident.

The Capitals have been the hottest team in the NHL since Jan. 1, and General Manager George McPhee might be risking the team's chemistry with the move. But McPhee said the team felt Murphy's skill level and speed would boost the squad and, should Murphy cause any problems, he would be shipped out immediately.

The Capitals took a similar gamble two years ago. They acquired Esa Tikkanen--another player regarded as difficult--from the Florida Panthers toward the end of the 1998 season and had great success, as Washington advanced to its only Stanley Cup finals.

"From a pure hockey standpoint, we thought he'd make our team better," McPhee said of Murphy. "He's as skilled as any player on our team. . . . We picked up Esa Tikkanen and everyone thought he was high-maintenance, and he worked out well for us."

The Capitals assume the remaining $300,000 on Murphy's one-year contract. They are not bound to him--he's eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Murphy declined to speak to the media until meeting his new team at practice Friday, but Fee said his client is eager for a fresh start with a surging team.

"Joe's reputation was hurt by [the incident with Burns]," Fee said. "Really, only one side was told in that story and that's their side.

"We really felt it was best not to have Joe say what he felt went on, but to just go to another hockey club. It would be counterproductive to get into it giving Joe's side of the story. That side will come out when and if there is a grievance hearing."

Washington is Murphy's seventh NHL club. He was the first U.S. college player to be taken with the top overall draft pick (by Detroit, in 1986). He had seven goals and 14 points in 26 games with the Bruins this season, with a plus 7. Last season he scored 25 goals with San Jose, which would have placed him second on the Capitals.

Murphy often is criticized for not being a team player, but since the 1990-91 season he has scored at least 20 goals in all seven seasons in which he's played at least 40 games. Twice, Murphy has cracked the 30-goal plateau.

Sources said the Capitals began investigating claiming Murphy a few days ago. Team officials contacted players and coaches who previously had worked with the right wing, and the coaching staff--initially reluctant to claim Murphy--changed its mind after the interview process was completed, sources said.