What’s Buggin’ Bailey?

Josh Bailey was drafted 9th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders (sykora93/Flickr)

Josh Bailey was selected 9th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, a choice that would cause plenty of discussion, different opinions and at first, harsh criticism of the relatively new General Manager, Garth Snow.

It was Snow’s first taste of the first round at the NHL draft since the previous year’s first round pick had been traded in the Ryan Smyth deal to the Edmonton Oilers. Snow dropped from the 5th overall selection, to 7th and then 9th while adding picks in the later rounds. Most notably, Snow passed on physical blue-liner, Luke Schenn who was taken by Toronto. But by the end of the day, many were saying that Garth Snow might have stolen the draft since he managed to get several highly rated prospects and even took Kirill Petrov with a third-round gamble.

But Bailey was the player that the Islanders had wanted all along and was immediately rushed into the NHL at eighteen years old. He could have been returned to his junior team; the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. It had been speculated that he would have been named captain and would have had another full season of Junior hockey under his belt. He ended the 2008 season in Windsor with scoring 29 goals and 67 assists for 96 points. The only player to have more points than Bailey that was taken from the OHL in the same draft class was the first overall selection, Steven Stamkos. So keeping the young forward in an orange and blue jersey seemed promising.

He finished his rookie season with 25 points and followed up his sophomore season with 35 points. Last year he seemed more comfortable at the wing position and went on an impressive streak where he was seen on the stat sheet in what seemed like every night. This year has hardly been the same.

With Tavares hurt early on after the first game of the season, Bailey was forced to step up his game in order to keep his team competitive. He had three goals and three assists for six points in his first five games played, combining with Blake Comeau for a deadly duo every time they were on the ice. But the strong start was followed with an invisible shield; he went on to go scoreless in his next thirteen games, prompting a demotion to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It was a last minute move; Bailey’s waiver-free two-way status would have been erased if he played one more game in the NHL.

Josh Bailey lines up for a face-off while playing wing, a switch that was made in attempt to spark his offense (MVerminski/Flickr)

With the Sound Tigers, Bailey tallied six goals and eleven assists for seventeen points in only eleven games played. The player that they had always wanted was starting to show that he could score the clutch and timely goals they thought he would and was playing with strength, energy and passion. In addition, the theory that his hip pointer injury that he suffered in early October was still nagging him and hampering his play had been pretty much put to rest with his impressive stint in the AHL. It was time to call him back up for another shot. He went pointless in his first game back but then recorded a three point night against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. Things were starting to look up for the 21-year old center.

There have been spurts here or there for Bailey, but he has only amassed another six points (one goal and five assists) over the last seventeen games played. The Islanders cannot send him back down to Bridgeport without placing him on waivers and another NHL team would be sure to take a chance on the young forward. Therefore Bailey is likely stuck with the Islanders for the rest of the year and is forced to find his way out of a slumping season on his own.

Could this have been avoided? Probably. An easy guess would have been that Bailey’s development would have began smoother had he been sent back to the Windsor Spitfires. At the very least, in a 2009 season where the Islanders were destined to finish last and select John Tavares, the Islanders should have sent the 18-year old to the World Junior Championships. Instead, they opted to keep him with the team instead of putting him in a competitive environment where he would have been striving for a gold medal; an experience that surely would have been rewarding regardless of the finish.

There is another hiccup with this season for Bailey; this is the third and final year of his entry-level contract and the February trade deadline is slowly creeping forward. Garth Snow has made decisions in the past with players that were given time to prove themselves but never were up to the task, such as Sean Bergenheim and Jeff Tambellini. But would Snow trade a player that is considered a core member of the youth movement that still may eventually break out into the second-line forward they expected him to be? If not, how long does Snow extend him for when he has to worry about re-signing Kyle Okposo as well as several others?

It clearly hasn’t been an easy road for Josh Bailey and a very uncertain future lies before him.

-Rob McGowan

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