As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
Ah, Josh Bailey. Where do we begin?
The man who tries to do nearly anything to make a majority of the fan base happy, and for most of them, is still not enough. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or just started rooting for the Islanders a short time ago, you’ll know by now that Josh Bailey has been and still is the most polarizing player on the Islanders. In my eyes, Bailey catches a lot a flack he really doesn’t deserve.
Yes he was developed extremely poorly after being drafted ninth overall in 2008, but he’s never been the player that he was projected to be. Instead, Bailey has turned in to one of the most reliable two-way forwards that New York has had since the beginning of the decade. Last year, the Bowmanville, ON native did something many thought he wasn’t capable of doing: producing on a consistent level.
That’s right. If you look at both sides, at the numbers and behind them, Josh Bailey had a fantastic season, even though he tailed off slightly towards the end.
While the Isles struggled for the first half of the 2016-17 season, it was Bailey who raised his game to help pull his team out of the rut. Bailey didn’t miss a game all year and was an assist machine in the first 41 games of the season, racking up 24 assists, which was good enough for tops on the team in helpers. But Bailey was also showing something he wasn’t just dishing it out to him mates, he was scoring. In a six-game span from the end of January in to February, Bailey had five goals, helping the Isles fight their way back in to the mix for the postseason. New York missed the playoffs by a point, but for Bailey, it was the best of campaign eight-year career. He ended the year second on the team in points with 56. And finished the year with 43 assists, the most of any player.
Aside from the stats, Bailey was easily the Islanders best forward next to John Tavares for long stretches of the season last year.
The chemistry he had with John Tavares and Anders Lee on the first line was undeniable. At one point after Doug Weight took over as head coach, that first line was one of the best in the National Hockey League. But the other thing that made Bailey so good was he made contributions on whichever assignment he was given. Bailey really showcased his skill on the power play and with his defensive play. He was the teams’ best defensive forward for three-quarters of the season. That just goes to show the strides Josh Bailey made last season.
Heading in to this season, I am one to believe that there are high expectations for Bailey.
Bailey will turn 28 just before the 2017-18 season begins on October 2nd, and is now in the “prime” of his career. And after his performance last year, he needs to show he’s not a one-hit wonder, and that last season was a fluke.
Might it be slight more difficult for Bailey to repeat his season from a year ago? That’s the question to be answered. He probably won’t see much time with John Tavares anymore with the addition of Jordan Eberle, but he could hit another gear playing with young guns like Mathew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, or Anthony Beauvillier. All three have fantastic skill that complements Bailey’s style of play. And don’t forget Brock Nelson and Andrew Ladd, who if Bailey is assigned with, can feed over and over, as both are primarily goal-scorers.
Also with a new coaching staff, Bailey will still be relied upon heavily on defense. His work on the penalty kill, and if he sticks to a true two-way game instead of changing his style, could attribute to him having another solid season. Another aspect to remember is the Isles will have a transformed power play. Bailey’s offensive awareness and passing ability make him a weapon.
Josh Bailey’s value can’t be denied, and going in to the 2017-18 season, it might be as high as its ever been after his career year last year. Bailey’s position on the club might see some changes, but he’ll be up for the challenge and ready to prove the doubters wrong once again.