Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
What is Tom Wandell's future with the Dallas Stars after nine healthy scratches, and now a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars?
In the wake of sending Jamie Oleksiak back to the Texas Stars, Trevor Daley getting hurt, and Kari Lehtonen being placed on injured reserve, the Dallas Stars had some room to make alterations to their roster Monday afternoon and did so with the re-calling of Jordie Benn and Matt Fraser.
They then reassigned Tomas Vincour to the Texas Stars along with, and here was a bit of a surprise, Tom Wandell, who will technically be on a "conditioning assignment" that can last at most two weeks.
Wandell hadn't played for Dallas since logging eight minutes of fourth-line time on January 29th in Detroit, and has seen others like Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel pass him on the depth chart, prompting many to wonder if this is a sign of "the end" for the speedy Swede.
It reminds one of a summer Twitter conversation between Mark Stepnski and Mike Heika- Dallas Stars media stalwarts. Erin quoted these tweets in June, but they're still so apropos, we'll use them one more time...
@MikeHeika: With Eakin in, I just don't see where Wandell fits. But I guess we'll see.
@andrewsdsp: @mikeheika Seriously, he's an asset. Why would you just let him walk?
@MikeHeika: @andrewsdsp Same reason you look back and wonder why they signed Krys Barch or Adam Pardy. What if he doesn't fit and you're stuck with him?
The off-season conversation continued like that on this blog, on their blogs, and many other places - Not the least of which must have been among the Stars' front office internally.
We'd like to think they were both right. NHL teams don't generally just lose assets for nothing, but they do appear to be "stuck" with him now as Heika speculated. That's just the cost of doing business.
Dallas did finally tender Tom Wandell a last minute, one-year offer at $892,500 just ahead of the June deadline for RFA's - his third NHL contract awarded by the Stars, and he was called upon immediately as the season finally started in Jamie Benn's absence.
Here are Wandell's contributions to the season through 16 games:
|JAN 29 '13 DAL @ DET||0||0||0||0||2||0||16||8:19||50|
|JAN 28 '13 DAL @ CBJ||0||0||0||0||2||2||13||7:28||100|
|JAN 26 '13 STL @ DAL||0||0||0||-2||0||1||22||14:54||25|
|JAN 24 '13 CHI @ DAL||0||0||0||0||0||0||12||9:33||80|
|JAN 22 '13 DAL @ DET||0||0||0||0||0||2||13||9:36||36.4|
|JAN 20 '13 DAL @ MIN||0||0||0||0||0||2||14||12:33||40|
|JAN 19 '13 PHX @ DAL||0||0||0||0||0||2||18||12:53||28.6|
...And not a single game since.
As was the case when he was given an opportunity in a prime role last year with Ribeiro and Benn out for a time, the Stars didn't score when he was on the ice, and had few chances. This gamelog indicates that apart from that home game against St. Louis there was really nothing happening for either side, nor Wandell when he was on the ice.
So the Stars are left with the same questions they had in July.
At what, exactly, does Tom Wandell excel at the NHL level? What's his niche?
His faceoff percentage, when called upon to take significant minutes in the wake of Benn's contract dispute, overlapping with Derek Roy's injury situation, was not good enough.
He's fast, but his hands and creativity/vision haven't shown the ability to keep up. Fans have remarked repeatedly that he'll bring the puck in behind the opponent's net and circle all the way back out in front - But never find a place to which to distribute and generate a quality shot.
He's not particularly pesky, physical, or instrumental defensively, though Marc Crawford made good use of him at times a couple of seasons ago in defensive situations.
In short, he doesn't seem to make an impact on the game. He has many admirers and Wandell jerseys can be seen at the AAC, but it's starting to feel like any fans he had within the organization are turning the other way.
He may be successful somewhere else. He may excel somewhere in Europe. But for the Stars, who have so many young faces arriving from Joe Nieuwendyk's renewed efforts at building a farm system, is there anything left to gain with further experimentation? Are there any situations and combinations left to try where Tom Wandell is concerned?
Wandell can play. Wandell can hold his own and use his feet to keep opposing teams at bay. The Stars probably consider him to be an asset that they need to keep tuned up, thus the conditioning assignment, but the decisions to play Antoine Roussel, Ryan Garbutt, Colton Scevious and now maybe even Matt Fraser in the coming days have to say something substantive.
If so, it's all just part of the game. Many prospects will never reach the NHL level. Tom Wandell did so and signed a couple of contracts along the way. There have been others like him and there will be many more down the line, but a fair question to ask on a morning like this is: Is the proverbial writing on the wall?
What do you think? Has his substantive time with the Dallas Stars drawn to a close?