As the 2011-2012 NHL season commences the New York Islanders seem to be a trendy pick as a team on the rise. A reason for this is the promise and potential their past several first round picks have shown. This group consists of Kyle Okposo (‘06), John Tavares (‘09), Nino Niederreiter (‘10), and Ryan Strome (‘11). Strome has yet to play for the Islanders but made the roster out of training camp although is expected to be returned to his junior team after nine games. The team didn’t have a first round pick in 2007, therefore the only first round pick not accounted for is 2008 pick Josh Bailey.
In 2008 the Islanders owned the 5th pick in the draft and with the team in rebuilding mode General Manager Garth Snow was looking to accumulate as much talent as possible. With that in mind Snow traded down twice in the first round from five to seven, then again from seven to nine, in order to stockpile draft picks. With the ninth pick he took Center Josh Bailey, whom Snow said was the guy they wanted from the start. At the time Bailey was regarded as a true playmaker who may even become a team’s captain.
Bailey made the team out of training camp and played 68 games for the Islanders his rookie season tallying 25 points. Although those numbers weren’t eye-popping 14 of those points came after the All-Star break. It was encouraging to see a rookie finish strong and the prevailing thought seemed to be he could build off that and improve in his second season. He failed to do that by starting the 2009-2010 season slow recording only 14 points in 41 games. Following the same script as the previous season he earned 21 points in his final 32 games leaving many to believe he made the proper adjustments to make himself into a solid NHL player. In 2010-2011, his third season, he started hot getting six points in five games, he then followed that up by not recording a point in 13 games continuing his roller coaster ride with the Islanders.
On November 24th, 2010 he was assigned to the Islanders AHL affiliate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The demotion came after Bailey played in his 159th game, per NHL rules after a player plays in 160 career games he must clear waivers before being sent to the AHL. While with Bridgeport he recorded 17 points in 11 games, making it seem as though the demotion lit a fire under Bailey and he was out to prove a point. After being recalled to the Islanders on December 22 he finished the season with an uninspiring 22 points in 52 games with only one multi-point game.
After the disappointing season many were left wondering “What do the Islanders do with Josh Bailey?” He proved he didn’t belong in the AHL, but he hasn’t shown enough in the NHL for the Islanders to truly believe he’s a top-6 forward. To his credit there are times where Bailey shows flashes that he’s finally figured “it” out and appears ready to take the next step, but for whatever reason he can’t maintain a level of consistently. As each up-and-down season passes, the Islanders continue to add players and it seems as though Bailey slips further and further down the depth chart.
This past off-season Bailey, a restricted free agent, and the Islanders agreed to a two-year contract worth $2.1 million. Contract talks between the sides didn’t go swimmingly as they went down to the wire of a training camp deadline – Islander rules are any player not signed by the start of camp cannot play for the NHL/AHL teams that year. After an off-season where the Islanders signed several key players to multi-year contracts the fact they play hard-ball with Bailey is a sign they aren’t totally sold on him, but at the same time would like to see some return on their investment.
The Islanders know all too well that sometimes it takes players a little longer to develop (see: Michael Grabner), and would hate to give up on a 22-year-old former first round pick for nothing. Depending on Bailey’s perception among the league he could also be an intriguing trade chip for the Islanders to upgrade the defense.
Only time will tell if Josh Bailey will ever be someone the Islanders can count on. With that being said he enters the year penciled in as the center of the third line, which for a top-10 pick playing in his fourth season isn’t ideal. So it would seem that it’s now or never for Bailey, he has two years to show the Islanders he can be a consistent point-scorer at the professional level.