|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
While the December 4th departure of defenseman Lian Bichsel from the Texas Stars came as a surprise to those outside the organization, those inside knew it was on the table thanks to the European assignment clause in Bichsel's contract.
"We discussed it leading up [internally] that it was always a possibility," said Texas Stars GM Scott White, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. "We became aware in communication with his agent that he wanted to exercise that option."
Bichsel, Dallas' 2022 first-round pick, was drafted out of the SHL and had a clause in his entry-level contract to allow him to make a decision to return to Europe by December 1 if he was not playing in the NHL. With Dallas' blueline packed, Bichsel was in the AHL for the foreseeable future.
That being said, Dallas did not take the decision lying down. They worked throughout November to try to keep the Swiss rookie in Cedar Park.
"Jim [Nill], Mark [Janko] and I all met with him. We explained to him his options. Knowing how his development has moved ahead while he was in Texas, we presented our case to stay."
Thomas Harley's progression in the AHL was a strong part of that presentation, according to White, with the teardown and rebuilding of his game and his immediate entry into the lineup for a playoff-bound club featuring prominently.
"But of course, we respected his decision that you want her to return because he feels he can work on some things that he doesn't think that he'll get in the American League."
Chief among those is more opportunity to play the puck, more 'puck touches'. The team is very high on his development so far across his game as he transitioned to North America.
"His puck game could improve a little bit. He has to learn how to continue to move his feet in North America. He can't just use his size."
Rögle seemed like an ideal spot for him to develop a more North American style while playing in Europe. Cam and Chris Abbott, twin brothers from Canada, were their coach and GM, respectively. That is 'were' until this week when they were both fired.
"Lian's going to have to manage that," said White. "It's part of the responsibility of the decision that he made, and these things can happen in the business world. He's just got to play, you know, and he's got to he has to get try to get better every shift, get better every game."
Bichsel finished the first part of his 2023-24 AHL campaign with seven points in 16 games. The second part will likely come in March as he is eligible to return after his season is over in Rögle. If an emergency situation arose, Bichsel would be eligible for recall to Dallas, but that is an unlikely scenario given the defensive depth down the road in Cedar Park.
"He was all-in when he was here," finished White. "But when the time came to make the decision, he took it. He understands how we feel about him. We think he's in a good place."
Bayreuther progressing toward a return
While Texas may be down a defender in Bichsel, another is continuously working towards a return. Gavin Bayreuther, who injured his ankle in the first game of the season and required surgery, is progressing nicely towards a return, according to White.
"He's still a good month away from probably getting really engaged. which is on schedule. He should put a skate on soon. He had serious surgery but he's on pace. When he's ready, he'll be back."
As a positive spin, White noted that all the players who created a blueline logjam on paper in the summer are getting a chance to play. Rookies like Artem Grushnikov and Gavin White will be everyday players.
Texas is in action tonight in Grand Rapids at 6 PM CT.