When things aren’t going well for a team, their fans get frustrated. Scoring droughts, short-side goals, and losing streaks drive fans crazy, leaving them looking for targets onto which they can vent their frustration. They need villains to blame so they create scapegoats, or if you prefer, they find players to put into the doghouse.
Three current Islanders who have spent a good share of their time in that doghouse are Andrew Ladd, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. Each of them has committed sins that brought out the ire of the fans and earned them a place in the doghouse at one time or another. Here is a look at this notorious trio and a review of the transgressions they made that brought the fans’ collective blood to a boiling point.
The Islanders signed the former Chicago Blackhawks winger, and former Winnipeg Jet captain, as a free agent in the summer of 2016. Ladd, who was already 31 at the time, was given a seven-year deal at an average of $5.5 million per season. His career numbers put him at a little bit more than half of a point per game with 245 goals and 281 assists for 526 points in 920 games. But in two seasons with the Islanders, he has only put up 60 points (31 in 2016-17 and 29 in 2017-18).
Why is Ladd a Villain?
Ladd was brought to the Islanders to replace top line winger Kyle Okposo, who left as a free agent that same summer. But things did not work out for him on the top line. He never gelled with center John Tavares and ended up being dropped back to the second line. After the emergence of Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier this past season, he bounced down again, eventually ending up on the third line where he only scored twelve goals. Isles fans were not pleased with the contract dollars and the seven-year term committed to what was now a third line player, and they let Ladd hear it often.
Reason to Hope
Although he hasn’t put up the kind of numbers that were expected of him, Ladd’s fundamental game is solid. He makes good decisions on the ice and is rarely caught out of position. He was a plus-eleven last year on a team that gave up a league-worst 293 goals.
As a former captain and two-time Stanley Cup winner with Carolina and Chicago, Ladd also brings great leadership experience to the team. With Tavares having moved on, Ladd will likely find more room to exercise those leadership skills on and off the ice.
The Islanders used the last pick in the first round of the 2010 draft to select Nelson at 30th overall. Since then he has played five full seasons, racking up some decent career numbers with 99 goals and 89 assists for 188 points. He has been a 20-goal scorer three out of his five seasons with the team. He just missed the 20-goal mark for a fourth time last season when he finished with 19. This summer he filed for arbitration but ended up signing a one-year deal at $4.25 million prior to his hearing.
Why is Nelson a Villain?
Nelson is a streaky scorer. He tends to disappear for long stretches of the season. Fans like consistency. Although it is nice to have a reliable 20-goal scorer, Nelson has the potential to be a 30-goal scorer. That is what the team and the fans would like to see from him.
His play away from the puck has been questionable at times as well — the fans are not very forgiving over that. Nelson has a strong hockey pedigree. He is the grandson of 1960 US Olympic Gold Medalist Bill Christian and the nephew of 1980 US Olympic Gold Medalist Dave Christian. Rightly or wrongly, expectations are high for someone with such strong hockey bloodlines.
Reason to Hope
The fans aren’t the only ones who will be looking for more consistency from Nelson in this upcoming season — new head coach Barry Trotz will be looking for that as well. Perhaps he is just the man to coax that next level of performance out of Nelson. He possesses a wicked wrist shot, so if Trotz can help him get himself into scoring position more often, there is a reason to believe he could become that 30-goal scorer.
Bailey joined the Islanders organization as the ninth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He has spent 10 years with the team, scoring 124 goals and 253 assists for 377 points in 715 games. Last season was the best of his career. He put up 71 points playing alongside Tavares and was named to the All-Star team. Before the season ended, Bailey signed a six-year contract extension that will pay him $5 million per season.
Why is Bailey a Villain?
It may be surprising to find Bailey’s name among the villains — after all, he is an NHL All-Star who just signed a $30 million long-term contract. Based on his play in 2017-18, he has earned his way off this list. But, prior to this season’s 71 points, Bailey had never shown the productivity expected of him as a top-10 draft pick. He has never reached the 20-goal mark in his career, and may never do so.
Despite the high pick, Bailey is not among the fastest skaters or best shooters on the team. Most of his success has been as a passer. This past season, Bailey had two very capable scorers in Tavares and Anders Lee on the receiving end of his passes, which worked out well for all three of them.
But, Bailey himself only scored 18 goals this season, and that was his career best. He has never been known to take a lot of shots, which has been the biggest source of frustration for the fans regarding his game…he doesn’t shoot the puck enough. He often passes up shots from great shooting positions on the ice in favor of passing the puck to a teammate, and it drives the fans nuts. And, although Bailey’s season was successful enough for the fans overlook this flaw this year, now that Tavares has moved on, Bailey could easily find himself back in the doghouse if he is unable to keep his numbers up next season.
Reason to Hope
At 28 years old, with 10 years of experience under his belt, Bailey is in the prime of his career. His focus, preparation, and maturity are trending up. He sees the ice well and his 53 assists last season were not an anomaly — he truly is great at passing the puck. Tavares is gone but the Islanders are not lacking in offensive weapons. Bailey will find plenty of chances to dish the puck off to someone who can pop it in the goal.
The Bottom Line
Ladd, Nelson, and Bailey are three talented players. They are all experienced veterans with solid skills and hockey smarts. They are a big part of the core of the team that Trotz has inherited. Despite the frustrations they have caused fans in the past, they will be counted on to overcome them and deliver quality hockey in the future.
Ladd and Bailey are on long-term deals. They are likely to be here for the long haul. Nelson is playing under a one-year deal. He could be extended or traded, or he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Contracts aside, they will all be Islanders at the start of the 2018-19 season.
I’m Mike Petersell. I have previously written on workplace learning for Many Ways to Learn. Now I’m covering the NY Islanders for The Hockey Writers.