NEWARK, N.J. — Now that Josh Bailey has found an island of security during the most insecure time for National Hockey League players, he can exhale. He also can acknowledge how much he leaned on a confidant during his contract negotiations, a buddy whose own negotiations will affect Bailey and everyone else involved with the Islanders.
Bailey said on Saturday, one day after formalizing a deal to stay with the team for the next six years, that John Tavares was with him all the way through the talks. Not as a teammate, a linemate or a fellow potential unrestricted free agent, either.
“These things, you look at them from different perspectives as friends,” Bailey said Saturday at Prudential Center, before the game against the Devils. “I think as friends, our relationship over the years — experiencing a lot of similar things together — has really grown. I owe him a lot and as a teammate and as a person. A great leader and a great person for me to look up to. Playing with him has been a treat as well.”
But it wasn’t the playing that was the focus of conversation lately. It was not a matter of either factoring in the other’s situation. “I think it’s more just supporting one another, it’s not necessarily getting into the details behind everything. It’s just the support to see things through and be there if they need someone to talk to,” Bailey said, having agreed to a reported $30 million package.
He mentioned that he had the feeling, in recent discussions with Garth Snow, that something was going to get done. Bailey said that he always has wanted to stay with one team throughout his career — in the manner of Patrik Elias, whose No. 26 was retired by the Devils on Saturday night. To the Islanders all-star right wing, Long Island is ideal.
“It’s everything: a quality place to live, a great place to raise your kids,” he said. “My wife and I both love it there. I know the boys, when they realize it a little more, when they get old enough to, will realize it, too.”
Tavares agrees with all of that, but still is undecided on factors such as whether the Islanders will provide him with the best chance to win a Stanley Cup. Anyway, that was irrelevant when he congratulated his linemate Friday. “He was just excited for my family and myself,” Bailey said. “That was the majority of it.”
Doug Weight noticed that, “It’s a little ironic” that Bailey found such stability on the brink of the Monday trading deadline, when many players are on edge.
“I don’t care if you feel you’re safe or you’re not, if you want to get traded or you don’t want to get traded, you want a contract. This is always a time when things bubble over a little bit and get in your head a little bit. Never easy,” the coach said after the morning skate. “As a coach and a staff, we’ve got to go back to work. It’s another huge game for us. Monday at 3 o’clock is Monday at 3 o’clock. Right now it’s a huge two points for us on the table against a team that we’ve been chasing since mid-October.”
The chase figured to get tougher with the Devils’ acquisition of former Islander Michael Grabner late Thursday. In a deadline-week oddity, Grabner flew home from Montreal that night with the Rangers (little more than an hour after they traded him). He became the 11th player to have played for all three New York-area teams, making his Devils debut against the Islanders — the same team he had debuted against as a Ranger.
Grabner said on Saturday that his five seasons with Bailey, Tavares and the rest of the Islanders were good and important for his career. He carries a vivid memory of the noise in Nassau Coliseum during the 2013 playoffs.
Bailey, meanwhile, doubled down in familiarity. He will be an Islander when they move to Belmont. “It’s still a ways away,” he said, “but it’s something to look forward to but I think something that our fans deserve.”