PITTSBURGH — This season alone, Islanders veteran forward Josh Bailey has been booed, benched, scratched, and demoted.
Now in his 15th season with the team, he was made a healthy scratch for what would have been his 1,000th career game — a major milestone for a hockey player — on Oct. 26 at home against the Rangers. Instead, he had to celebrate it on the road in Carolina against the Hurricanes.
His ice time has at times plummeted and so has his place on the depth chart. Starting the season in the top six, he’s found himself lately on the fourth line — a player averaging 16:33 of ice time during his career had an average of just 12:06 of ice time over his last six games, including just 7:38 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 17. He played just 44 seconds of even-strength time during the first period on Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
This is the new reality for the 33-year-old, who is one of the longest-tenured Islanders ever. Thursday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins will mark his 1,052nd career game, which is just eight short of tying the legendary Denis Potvin for second-most in franchise history.
Yet in a situation that would understandably grate even the most consummate of professionals, Bailey has remained a pragmatic pro.
“It’s different… but you’re just trying to stay focused and in the game and ready for when your number’s called,” Bailey said. “That’s really just been my mindset. When your number’s called, make sure you’re ready and give it my best.”
He was ready on Tuesday night against the Sabres even after such limited playing time in the first period. He scored a go-ahead goal 1:51 into the third period and provided the assist on Hudson Fasching’s game-winner just 5:46 later after the Sabres tied it up.
“It’s incredible [how he’s handled things],” Horvat said. “It takes a lot of mental strength and— not to be corny — a no-quit attitude. To have his ups and downs and scratches and stuff like that and for him to come and play the way he’s been, it shows a lot about the person and how he’s been able to succeed in this league for a lot of years. So you pay your respects to a guy like that.”
For a player whose production has rarely jumped off the stat sheet — he’s never scored more than 18 goals in a season and recorded more than 56 points once — Bailey has four points (2 G, 2 A) in his last three games entering Thursday night’s matchup against the Penguins.
“You just can’t say enough about him. It’s just his character, his personality,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “He’s a quality character individual who comes to work no matter what and sometimes, maybe it’s not exactly what he’s looking for, but at the end of the day, he just comes out and does his job and full respect for him and I’m glad that he was rewarded.”
And that’s why he’s so appreciated in the Islanders’ locker room.
“He’s always been level-headed and poised and has a calming presence to him,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “When it comes to big situations, you find that he’s in the mix. He’s making plays or scoring goals and stepping up so it’s great to see him do that.”