WASHINGTON -- Dick Tarnstrom didn't come back to North America to be a depth player, that much is certain.
When he joined the Oilers last summer, after being coaxed out of Swiss Elite League with a $2-million contract, he was under the impression he'd be playing a fairly prominent role.
So were the Oilers.
Then they traded for Joni Pitkanen. Then they signed unrestricted free agent Sheldon Souray.
And Tarnstrom's job description changed from playing a prominent role to not playing, period.
Last night in Washington he was in the press box again, marking the sixth time in the last eight games he's been a healthy scratch.
And with defenceman Matt Greene just days away from making his return from a broken ankle, there's even less chance Tarnstrom will be seeing any ice time soon.
"There's a reason why you're here, that's to play," said the 32-year-old Swede, sipping a sports drink in his dressing room stall after the morning skate. "It's frustrating not playing. Everybody here wants to play, but there's six guys playing, so one sits out and that's me."
It's tough, especially for a guy who thinks he still has a lot to give.
"I think I've been playing decent," he said. "Craig (MacTavish) probably has a reason. That's up to the coaching staff and the team. There's not much I can do about it."
Tarnstrom is every bit as good as Ladislav Smid or Denis Grebeshkov, and has better numbers to show for this year, but MacTavish said if everything else is pretty equal, you have to defer to your youth.
"It's pretty clear to everyone the situation we're in," he said of the rebuilding effort. "We want to play our young guys and develop our young guys."
Tarnstrom wants to be patient, and philosophical, but nobody flies over from Sweden to sit.
"No," he said. "But right now that's the way it is. I have to accept that. I'm paid to be here. I really don't want to show any negativity."
The Oilers know they can't carry eight defencemen on the NHL roster and it doesn't serve their future to demote Smid in order to make room.
"From my perspective it's a luxury to have Tarnstrom around because all coaches want the experience on the back end," said MacTavish, who likes Tarnstrom as a person, too. "From his standpoint I'm sure he's wanting to play more ... here or to have an opportunity somewhere else. We understand that. We'll assess that based on what's best for our team, also with an interest in doing the right thing for Dick."
If they can swing a good deal for him, they will. Tarnstrom's name is already being mentioned in trade rumours.
"I'm not playing here, so that's probably a reason why," he said. "There's always rumours out there, you never know whether it's happening or not. We'll see what happens. Right now the situation is what it is. If there's a team out there that wants me, they'll probably call Kevin and they'll go from there."
Tarnstrom will get, however, get a few games now that Joni Pitkanen left last night's game with a groin injury.
The Oilers freed up roster space for Greene by placing Geoff Sanderson, who's been troubled by a bad back lately, on injured reserve.