Josh Bailey is everything right — and wrong — about the New York Islanders.
Drafted 9th overall in 2008, Bailey was picked ahead of Erik Karlsson, John Carlson, Roman Josi, and Braden Holtby, among others. Bailey entered the NHL right away, playing for an Islanders team with multiple vacancies in the top nine. He showed promise at times and often looked like he was on the verge of breaking out, but couldn’t take the next step. While Bailey strugged, the Islanders did as well.
Bailey’s highest point per game season coincided with the Islanders first trip to the playoffs in 2012-13. In the lockout shortened season, Bailey scored 19 points in 38 games. By that point, the forward had already played four seasons in the NHL, failing to reach the 40 point mark even once.
Bailey shuffled throughout the top nine, filling his role as a fine two-way player, but for a former top ten pick the expectations should have been much higher.
Playing in the shadows of the New York Rangers, the Islanders quietly missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons from 2006-2012. However, the organization never felt pressure to improve their performance despite the putrid run, as the die-hard fans were sticking around to try to make certain the team wouldn’t move. First overall draft pick John Tavares helped give the fans hope, too.
Simply put, the Islanders were afforded the opportunity to play below expectations for an extended period of time, much like Josh Bailey. As Bailey developed, his points per game continued to hover around the 0.40 mark, fluctuating some, but never enough to declare him a success (or failure).
Much like the organization overall, there was still optimism surrounding Bailey’s development. The Ontario native started his NHL career at the age of 19, meaning when he was in his fourth season in the league he was still merely 23-years-old. Players typically continue to improve into their mid-twenties, usually peaking around 26.
The next two years featured some improvement from Bailey as the Islanders focused on putting together a competitive team. When the Islanders struggled mightily in 2014 due to defensive deficiencies, Bailey posted his best numbers. Bailey, much like the Islanders, showed offensive promise, but struggled as a whole.
In the 2014-15 campaign, Bailey finally surpassed the 0.50 point per game mark for the first time in his career.
The Islanders reached the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
Unsurprisingly, Bailey’s progression went unnoticed behind the team’s flashy acquisitions on defense and stability in net. Once again, Bailey was left playing third line minutes and quietly working in the bottom six. There are some positives to his being a reliable depth player, such as his affordable at $3.3 million per season contract, but it hardly seems enough considering where he was drafted.
Much like the Islanders, Bailey has skated by without being pushed to play at the next level and has failed to reach his full potential. Any top ten pick should be expected to be a strong contributor, and usually, if they don’t pan out they’re eventually skewered by the fanbase or moved along by management.
Bailey has never seemed to recieve that backlash, despite the stagnation of his progress as a prospect.
The Islanders didn’t seem to receive backlash for their losing streaks as like other major-market teams, and were allowed to spend over five years “rebuilding”.
The 2015-16 season is past the halfway mark and Bailey’s point per game number has dropped back to 0.44, while the Islanders have found themselves in the same place as last season. Both Bailey and the Islanders represent vanilla entities that are not progressing or being held accountable. Eventually complacency results in failure, and that is the road both Josh Bailey and the New York Islanders are on until they show a real sense of urgency.