Josh Bailey has been one of the most enigmatic Islanders in the franchise’s 50-year history — one who has divided a fan base and often reduced irrational adults down to the equivalent of petulant children arguing over what their favorite flavor of ice cream is.
One corner simply looks at the stat sheet, which in sports is often the great equalizer. Drafted ninth overall in 2008, he never developed into the top-line forward that came with initial expectations. He eclipsed the 50-point mark just three times in 15 seasons, averaged 38.6 points per year, and never scored 20 goals. He wasn’t overly physical or aggressive and he shied away from shooting.
But the stat sheet can only take you so far when it comes to Bailey, who is certainly worthy of one day being inducted into the Islanders’ Hall of Fame regardless of what the numbers suggest.
While some will use the compiling argument when pointing at his 394 assists which rank fourth in franchise history and his 580 points which rank seventh, there is an accomplishment in simply remaining with the organization for as long as he did. Only the legendary Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin played more games for the Islanders than Bailey’s 1,057 — and he experienced the entire gamut of success (and lack thereof) with the organization.
Missing the playoffs in each of his first four seasons with some abysmal clubs, Bailey made the playoffs seven times in the following 11 years while playing a major role in some of the most successful Islanders teams since the dynasty years.
He scored the overtime winner in Game 1 of the 2019 first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum — the first playoff game in the Islanders’ old home since 2015 after its failed move to Brooklyn. His goal laid the groundwork for just the team’s second postseason series win since 1994.
In Game 5 of the first round of the 2021 playoffs against the very same Penguins — with the series tied at 2-2 — he scored the double-overtime winner to lift the Islanders into the series lead. They’d eventually close it out in Game 6 before taking down the Boston Bruins and making their second consecutive Stanley Cup semifinal appearance.
Bailey is the only Islanders skater that did not participate in the dynastic teams of the early 1980s to boast 50 career postseason points.
He accepted every role that was asked of him — whether it was flanking John Tavares on the first line or providing a steady two-way game on the third. There were power play outings and penalty kill minutes and backchecking clinics to boot.
And all the while, he earned the complete admiration of his teammates, especially when he was constantly being made a healthy scratch or having his minutes limited by head coach Lane Lambert.
“It was really tough [to see],” Islanders captain Anders Lee, who has been teammates with Bailey for 11 years, said. “Knowing Bails and playing with him for a long time and sharing a lot of special moments on and off the ice together, it’s hard to see. He’s a true professional.
“He brings everything he has to the table every day and handles all of these things and this adversity with class. It speaks a lot to his character and what he brings to our room.”
In an attempt to not sugarcoat things, the avid viewer or season-ticket holder or the know-it-all thumping their chest on social media doesn’t see this. And honoring a player who is revered in the locker room as much as Bailey for a decade-and-a-half run with the Islanders is more of an honor for the team than it is to the fan base.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Islanders star Mathew Barzal said. “I’ve looked up to him since I came in here. His demeanor, his skill, his hockey sense on the ice is in the top tier… He’s a great mentor for a guy like me and the younger guys.”
A consummate teammate, a central figure in the revival of a downtrodden organization, and a true professional. It’s all sort of a no-brainer.