What’s Going On With Josh Bailey?

The longest tenured Islander might be on the outs on Long Island. 

On the surface, there’s nothing particularly unusual about Josh Bailey’s 2021-22 season. His 22 points in 40 games (0.55 points per game) are right around the level of production that one can expect from him, while his role in the Islanders’ top-six forwards – be it on the top line with Mat Barzal and Anders Lee or on the second line with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier – has been largely unquestioned. 

Unquestioned until now, that is. With young forward Oliver Wahlstrom returning from injury prior to the Islanders’ 4-3 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 24, Andrew Gross of Newsday reported that Josh Bailey was not a part of the team’s four main lines during their morning skate. Based on that, it would be no surprise when Bailey was listed as a scratch for the contest, while Kieffer Bellows took his usual spot next to Nelson and Beauvillier. 

What’s more is that Bailey has unexpectedly become a part of trade talks in recent days. According to David Pagnotta of the Fourth Period, the Minnesota Wild have reached out about the veteran winger, but “no deal is believed to be imminent at this time.” That said, if one team finds Bailey valuable, it’s hard to believe that they would be the only ones. 

Bailey has been a fixture in the Islanders’ lineup since the 2008-09 season and had missed just nine games since the start of the 2015-16 season, prior to Thursday night. While his point totals have been strong in recent years, his underlying numbers paint a more pessimistic picture. Bailey has been a very poor defensive player during that time, finishing in the bottom 2.35% in Evolving Hockey’s RAPM even strength expected goals against per 60 minutes in both the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons and rating above average only once. 

Furthermore, there’s evidence Bailey’s true offensive impact has been dwindling too. While the line of him, Barzal and Lee has been good (61.72 5v5 GF%, 50.62 5v5 xGF%), the rest of his numbers, as well as the eye test, say he hasn’t been contributing as much as those numbers indicate. His 5v5 on-ice goals for per 60 is over a quarter of a goal (-0.31) lower than his average teammate, while his 5v5 on-ice Corsi for per 60 is -2.84 attempts lower by the same method. These numbers suggest that offensive play-driving that has occurred with Bailey on the ice has been driven mainly by his teammates, rather than by Bailey himself, a grim indictment for the veteran forward. 

The potential trade rumors and Bailey’s (potentially temporary) descent on the depth chart have converged at a convenient time for the Islanders. If he has become a spare part among the Isles’ top-nine forwards, why not shop him and see what offers are out there? Ridding themselves of some or all of his $5 million cap hit could help the team make upgrades over the summer and an open roster spot in the top-six would allow for a promotion for a younger player like Wahlstrom or Bellows. 

But of course, trading players – trading people – is never that simple. Bailey has been an Islander for over a decade and stuck with the team through thick and thin. Him and former Islanders captain John Tavares were supposed to be free agents in the same offseason, but in the midst of the media circus that was Tavares’ walk year, Bailey would sign a long term extension to stay in New York. He is beloved by his teammates and has served as an alternate captain for the past four seasons. While his play has diminished, not having him in the locker room is something that may have repercussions for the rest of the team; that’s something that the organization will have to weigh when they consider trading him. 

Regardless of what you think of Josh Bailey at this point in his career, seeing him play for another team would be a difficult pill to swallow for Islanders fans. Bailey is third all-time in Islanders games played, fourth in assists and 10th in points; he is, for all intents and purposes, an Islanders legend. But nothing lasts forever and recent developments indicate that his days on Long Island could be numbered. As the March 21 trade deadline approaches, Bailey’s name will be an interesting – if unanticipated – name to watch.

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