23 January 2010
After playing 48 regular season games with the Lightning, James Wright has been sent back down to the Vancouver Giants. In the 48 games he played, this 19 year old center recorded 2 goals and 5 points. He was fifth among the Lightning in hits with 51. He was drafted 117th overall, in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He surprised everyone this year when he made the team and got promoted to the top line with Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Wright had a good camp and due to fantastic two way play he was promoted up to the top line, but eventually he caught in the line juggling of head coach Tocchet and never found the solid chemistry with a line. His movement in the lines were due to a lack of production of the Lightning star players, that caused Tocchet to keep mixing up the rest of his roster.
This is the statement released from the Lightning regarding his demotion:
“We are excited for James to get back to junior to continue his development. We feel the 20-plus minutes a night he receives there will be the best for his long-term growth,” Lawton said. “He has made strides far greater than we projected this soon in his career and we look forward to seeing him continue that growth.”
When the Lightning first decided to keep Wrighter with the team instead of sending him back to the WHL to play another year with the Vancouver Giants, I was a little bit surprised. My thoughts on the reason why you would keep a player that is still eligible to play another year in junior is because the player has nothing left to learn in the juniors. This may or may not have been the case with Wright, but I think the proper thought process in the decision about Wright had not been followed with the Lightning management. Anyone who reads my blog is well aware of what I think about the Lightning infrastructure and their tendency to make rash decisions, I believe the decision to keep Wrighter playing up in the NHL was made too quickly.
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In the NHL, once a player plays more than nine games of his rookie contract, the team will forfeit one year off of the contract they signed with a player. The contract that Wright signed was a 3 year contract, which means that he has completed his 1st year, and is only under two more years before he is up for RFA negotiations. What this means to the club in the long run, is that the team burns through the contract faster making the player eligible to become a UFA faster. Basically that means the cheap rookie/RFA contract gets used up faster, which means the player will be able to demand big money as a UFA earlier or sign with a different team.
So when a team decides to play a player more than 10 games it is because they feel that the player is really ready for the NHL. When the Lightning just kept playing Wright, but never really announcing that they would keep him up in the NHL, I had a feeling it was based more on a "he's playing good, let's just keep him around" rather than analyzing the pros and cons of sending him back down to the WHL or keeping him in the NHL.
Not that I have any experience in evaluating when a player is ready for the NHL, but I think that Wright could have used another year to build up his size before making the move to the NHL. It was not as if Wright has been the type of player like Tavares, Kane or Myers who is currently lighting up the scoreboard and being a real difference for the team. Wright should have been allowed to play the 9 games, but then be sent back down to the WHL to play out the rest of the year.
I feel that the sub-par development and coaching system may hurt Wright in the long term. If the Lightning were only going to play Wright in the end on the 4th line then there was no point in keeping him with the Lightning as Wright really cannot benefit from skating with the likes of Konopka or Veilleux. In the past few games Wright did not play 20 minutes per game, he played 5:37, 11:28 and 9:31, averaging about 10 minutes a game.
So in the end, the decision to keep up Wright in the NHL appears to have been a mistake. I feel that if you aren't prepared to keep the player through the whole season, there is no point of even playing more than the 9 game maximum.
He will rejoin the Vancouver Giants to play out the rest of the year. He has been replaced by a waiver pick up of Nate Thompson from the New York Islanders. This post was by no means a critique on Wright, as I think he played well in his rookie season, rather that I believe that the decision to have him play was made rashly and that the coaching/player developement was not able to have Wright play to his potential.