‘The guy you can lean on’: Josh Bailey entering rarified Islanders air to start 2021 season

Islanders Josh Bailey
Josh Bailey
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Bailey doesn’t like to talk about himself, which is very on-brand for the veteran winger of the New York Islanders.

So when he was asked about becoming just the fifth player in franchise history to play 13 seasons with the club — which officially confirms it on Thursday night’s season opener against the crosstown-rival Rangers — the 31-year-old reminisced in typical Josh Bailey fashion.

“It’s an honor for sure,” he said. “At this point, I’m really focused on trying to create some new [memories] and better ones.”

Thursday night will be career game No. 866 for Bailey, which all have come on Long Island, moving him within six games of the legendary Clark Gillies’ run with the dynastic Islanders.

He’s one of the more controversial figures of a fan base who wanted the Bellvue, Ontario native to develop into a dynamic offensive playmaker after being selected ninth overall in 2008. On paper, the numbers aren’t there having never scored 20 or more goals while eclipsing the 50-point mark in just three of his first 12 seasons.

But talk to any Islanders player or coach and Bailey is indispensable.

“Bails has been such a mainstay in our room for so long. He has so much to offer on and off the ice,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “He’s someone all of us turn to at times and it’s awesome to see him [now] fifth all-time in seasons played. That’s pretty impressive. That speaks volumes to Bailey’s career.”

Rising to the rank of alternate captain, Bailey has been through it all with the Islanders from last-place seasons, to the departure of John Tavares, to a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2020. He ranks ninth in franchise history in assists and 13 in points, putting together a career that will be looked back on as one of the best the organization has seen after their four-straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

All the while, he remains as even-keel as they come.

“What he’s meant to the team, I think you can’t say enough,” forward Brock Nelson said during training camp. “He’s the guy you can lean on. He’s not a flashy guy, nothing that stands out for him to be a huge fan favorite but he just goes about his business.

“He just kind of does everything right. Just a good guy to have, keeps it light, always trying to be better and he’s a competitor.”

His contributions to the Islanders aren’t so easy to identify, especially from the outside looking in. But when it comes to a team predicated on culture along with a selfless brand of hockey, there’s no better poster child for the cause.

“He cares deeply about everyone in the team and that’s all you can ask of the guy,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “My appreciation for Josh Bailey as a player, as a person, continues to grow. When I first got here I don’t think I appreciated it enough.

“Now spending time the last two years and 30-odd playoff games with Josh, I really have a value for him as a leader, as a person, and especially as a player that I didn’t have when I first got here or as an opposing coach. He’s one of the most respected guys you’re going to find in the room, he’s one of the smartest players I’ve coached… he’s a really good pro.”