The New York Islanders organization has been re-building for what seems like decades, but since the hiring of GM Garth Snow in July of 2006, the team has really fine-tuned their strategy and stuck with it. The plan is to stockpile young talent, build around said young talent, and not overly commit to veterans with high salaries. Even with the oft-ridiculed Rick DiPietro contract, the Isles still have almost $27 million in cap space and that’s with nine forwards, six defensemen, and three goaltenders under contract. They do have a few notable RFA’s left to sign and one of them is the ninth overall selection of the 2008 draft, Josh Bailey.
Bailey was not even a point-per-game player in the OHL until 2007-08 when he exploded with 96 points in 67 games. His draft stock rose tremendously and he was not only chosen in the first round, but in the top 10. After his draft, the young Bailey was ineligible for the AHL, so his options were to go back to Windsor or play in Long Island all season. The Islanders, desperate for talented players, chose to keep Bailey in the NHL, where he scored 25 points.
In his sophomore year, Bailey would improve slightly, but his 35 points in 73 games was hardly anything to get excited about from a fantasy standpoint. The scoring touch he had shown at the lower levels was much more difficult to replicate.
As the 2010-11 season began, Bailey finally started to reward fantasy owners. His six points in six games to start the season hinted at the possibility of a breakout year, but those hopes quickly dwindled after a 14 game pointless streak, including zero points in the month of November.
As the season progressed, the 6’1” Bailey would show signs of the offensive flair people had craved, but inconsistency was a major factor in Bailey’s game. It should be noted that Bailey has been in the league for three years and will turn 22 years old just before the 2011-12 season starts. Inconsistency should be no surprise.
The Islanders management has shown great patience with Bailey, but in this past season, they sent a message. Bailey was assigned to Bridgeport (where he dominated with 17 points in 11 games) in a clear attempt to re-gain confidence and scoring ability. When Josh returned, he performed well, but still showed the same signs of inconsistency. At his best, Bailey is a speedy, agile winger with a high hockey IQ. At his worst, he tends to blend in offensively and get caught out of place defensively.
As the 2011-12 season begins, Bailey will experience something he’s never had before in Long Island. Competition. With the experience he’s already had at the NHL level mixed with the pressure from Moulson, Parenteau, Comeau, Niederreiter, Okposo, and Grabner, Bailey is going to have to iron out his consistency problems fast. Based on his total number of NHL games played, Bailey cannot be sent to the AHL without passing waivers first, so there is added motivation to find a spot in a scoring role.
For these reasons, I see two potential scenarios unfolding.
Bailey’s inconsistency will become less of an issue and he will find a role in the top six, skating with someone like Kyle Okposo. The added competition from the youngsters will force him to work hard and improve his defensive game. The end result will be a strong season from Bailey, posting 50-55 points as he becomes a key contributor. His minus-13 rating will change to something closer to a plus-13 rating.
Scenario two is just as likely, though less discussed. If Bailey plays well for short spurts but fades away at times as he has in the past, he’s not going to last in Long Island. He’ll be traded as soon as Garth Snow can find a suitable deal. In fact, if management has already had enough, he could be traded this offseason. If this happens, pay close attention to which team Bailey is traded to. For Bailey to be a fantasy relevant player he will need talent around him and he will need competition to drive his development. Those two things are critical to Bailey’s progression.
Josh Bailey has plenty of talent to be a 50-60 point player, with the occasional 70 point season (in the right environment), but he still has some work to do before he can get there. It’s right around this time that many fantasy owners grow impatient and completely abandon ship, but if you know what to look for, you should be able to discern whether a productive season is forthcoming or not. I have my money on Bailey finding a new home next season and depending on which city grabs him, his production could rise quickly. If he remains in Long Island, watch closely for signs of inconsistency. If there’s too much for your liking, wait for one of his hot streaks and do your best to trade him then. Otherwise, invest or stand pat with these considerations in mind.