In the last decade, the sample of forwards who have played as many NHL games (211) as Josh Bailey has by age 21 is not very large.
Reflective of our post-lockout, cap-conscious, youth-accelerated NHL, it consists mostly of stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Phil Kessel, Steven Stamkos and of course Sidney Crosby. Even players who at any time were called "rushed" or "struggling" in that group -- guys like Jakub Voracek (0.56), Sam Gagner (0.59) or Peter Mueller (0.57) -- have put up more points per game than Bailey (0.42) during their Entry Level Contracts.
That's not to say Bailey can't still reach his projection as an important two-way forward. But he's certainly not there after 211 games, and his peer group indicates he indeed was rushed to the NHL. While this has "burned" the first three years of his restricted rights, it makes his summer restricted free agency interesting: Instead of hitting his first RFA period looking for a windfall, he should be a cheap re-sign now thanks to his low impact at the NHL level. (Of course, if he's signed short-term and breaks out in the next year or two, his asking price for the next, arbitration-eligible free agency will balloon.)
Given how the Islanders have reached a lot of "makes sense for both sides" contracts with their players lately, I expect something smart will be worked out with Bailey. His peaks and valleys at this age haven't shattered my expectations for what he can become. But this report card is for talking about how well he met your expectations this past season.
Other Second Contracts for Young Pups
Well, this post is Bailey's 2010-11 report card, but feel free to speculate on his next contract, too:
For reference, Gagner's contract pays him $2.275 per for two seasons; the cap hit on Mueller's second contract was $2 million per for two seasons. David Perron, who had 124 points in 225 games over his first three seasons, re-signed signed at a cap hit of $2.15 million on his second deal. To be clear, all of these guys have better performance records than Bailey, but have had similar "He's great!" / "He needs work" flows to their young NHL careers.
I'm not sure what your expectations were for Bailey coming into the season, but I bet I know what a bunch of you were thinking after five games or so. That was when Bailey, in the parlance of our times, "stepped up" after John Tavares missed some games with a concussion during the first week of the season.
Wait, did I say "kiss of death"? Maybe that was this from Scott Gordon a few games later, on the decision to keep Bailey with the Isles in his rookie year instead of sending him to juniors:
We knew that if [Bailey] stayed here, we could get a lot of the bad things out of his game and make the process quicker for him. If we had sent him back to Junior, he would have gotten a bunch of points, probably would’ve won the Memorial Cup with the team that won it. (He) Would’ve gone to World Juniors, but at the end of the day, right now, he could be the player we saw last year instead of being the player he is now*...
* "Now" being the Bailey who had 3 goals, 4 assists after 5 games when the 2010-11 season was young and innocent, and we could make frivolous small-sample jokes like this.
Of course, then came Toronto, where Bailey injured his hip early in an awkward hit against the boards. I'm convinced that injury slowed him down and he probably returned too soon, but it's not like that's the story of his season. Bailey's offensive struggles returned, the Islanders season fell in the tank, and after going scoreless in 13 games Bailey was loaned to Bridgeport in late November for a confidence boost before he hit the magical 160 waiver-eligible mark.
At Bridgeport he scored. A lot. Beat writer Michael Fornabaio ultimately pointed out that Bailey finished his brief Bridgeport career as the top points-per-game player in Sound Tigers history. A month later he was recalled and he was going to the net again and maybe it was all gonna work out okay. Prescription administered, symptoms cured.
Except no: By season's end we still had the same enigmatic puzzle: Bailey demonstrates vision and good passing but often doesn't shoot enough, sometimes disappears, and with 11 goals and 17 assists in 70 games (16 EV points), lacks the production you're hoping for. (But he's still young.)
|2010-11 - NYI (NHL)||70||11||17||28||-13||37||5||0||17:50||2:23||2:21||102|
|2010-11 - Bri (AHL)||11||6||11||17||+5||4||3||1||n/a||n/a||n/a||25102|
Points of Concern, Points of Hope
One reality that is at center, he's slotted behind franchise phenom John Tavares and all-mode linchpin Frans Nielsen and that isn't changing soon. Worse, his faceoff performance remains an unacceptable 44%. (It's 44% at even strength, too, so this is not a situational thing.) By Corsi and all other measures, he was simply in the bottom half of Islanders forwards.
On the other hand, I mean look at the roles the guy has played:
Line Combinations via Dobber Hockey
|11.83%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 44 SCHREMP,ROB|
|8.33%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 58 JOENSUU,JESSE|
|6.55%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 17 MARTIN,MATT|
|6.29%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 40 GRABNER,MICHAEL - 51 NIELSEN,FRANS|
|4.88%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 15 PARENTEAU,PIERRE|
|3.79%||SH||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE|
|2.96%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 40 GRABNER,MICHAEL - 21 OKPOSO,KYLE|
|2.52%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 93 WEIGHT,DOUG|
|2.2%||SH||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 28 KONOPKA,ZENON|
|2.03%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 37 COLLITON,JEREMY - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE|
|1.83%||EV||12 BAILEY,JOSH - 57 COMEAU,BLAKE - 28 KONOPKA,ZENON|
The guy has played wing and center, mostly with a right-handed guy who needs to play left wing plus a variety of grinding wingers and one skilled but enigmatic Rob Schremp Hockey. By role, he was often stuck with the rest of the lot of bottom-six forwards the Islanders used this season, all of whom were usually overmatched. (For what it's worth, 21 of Comeau's 46 points came with Bailey also on the ice.)
If he weren't 21, I'd say "deal with it." But he is 21, he has demonstrated flashes of why he was a top 10 pick, and a regular role -- whatever that is -- should help him.
This season was a step back for Bailey, which is bad for the Islanders, but maybe good for their position in contract negotiations. Yet the story is never concluded when a player is this young. (I apologize for repeating that so much, but it's true: Just because a kid isn't a star at 21 doesn't mean he can't become a fine NHL player.)
The Islanders drafted Bailey in part for his head and his performance as a leader on his junior team; I'm still betting he puts it all together. More than that, he strikes me as a "smart" player at heart, which -- when affordable and unsung -- can be the kind of unheralded piece you need to fill out a deep crop of 1-9 forwards.
You're good enough, strong enough
And doggone it, people like you.
-Your Confidence Counselor
This is the part of our report cards where we hash out what we think of the player at present and for the future. Consider your preseason expectations for him and grade him on that curve (that way we don't just give all fourth-liners 2s and 4s, and all leading scorers 7s and 8s).
As mentioned above, feel free to play agent or his second contract, too. (Usually in this situation the player goes for a 1- or 2-year deal, which would make Bailey arbitration-eligible next time around.) Of course, the CBA will expire before then, so who knows...