TAMPA — There always is hope. That is what Josh Bailey’s career trajectory says and what his weekend says even louder. His 10 seasons with the Islanders have been rough at times and they rarely have been stellar. Still, he kept plugging away, kept trying, kept believing and has turned himself into an All-Star.
Bailey being named to the National Hockey League All-Star Game was as surprising as the same player being picked in the first round 10 years ago, and much more pleasing to Islanders fans who have spent the better part of the decade being skeptical of him.
Here he is this weekend, among the best players in the world. He’s having a career season with 12 goals and 42 assists in 46 games.
He never doubted his skills, but even he never dreamed of hearing his name announced among such heady company. “You don’t think about it too much. You’re more focused on winning, hoping to win a Stanley Cup,” he said Saturday morning at All-Star media day. “It’s a nice feather in your cap and it’s just an honor to be here.
“It’s obviously an honor to be named to the All-Star team and to represent the Islanders organization, it’s something I’m proud of, for sure,” said the player who, at 18, basically asked the Islanders “are you sure?” when they asked to meet with him before the draft.
He knew back then that the team had the fifth overall pick and he realized that he was not good enough to be selected so high. Bailey learned that Garth Snow was considering trading down, which he did — twice. The decision was booed heartily at the team’s draft party, setting a tone for the reception he often received during the next eight or so years.
John Tavares, his linemate and fellow All-Star, noticed a change last season, after Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin all left the Islanders through free agency. “There was big room for guys to fill in, to move into that opportunity and I think he saw that,” Tavares said, sitting alongside Bailey at media day. “He always believed in the talent that he has, the type of hockey player he is. I think he knew it was a great chance for him. You could see the confidence grow and grow and his belief was always there. You could see the confidence — maybe you don’t have a great period or a great game, the next game you’re going to still be out there and have that same opportunity.
“Playing on the first power play, he really got to emphasize his ability. You could see him running with it. He has obviously turned himself — I don’t want to say ‘turned himself,’ he made himself into an even better hockey player than he was,” Tavares said.
There is no denying that Bailey has flourished because he is playing with Tavares — the same circumstance that earned huge contracts for Okposo and Matt Moulson. But a linemate cannot carry someone into the All-Star Game. Bailey’s work and growth stand on their own. In fact, Tavares said that Bailey actually has helped him.
Bailey was just a kid when he showed up on Long Island, now he is the father of two boys. The whole family joined him here, along with his parents and in-laws. They rented a house and had a barbecue Friday night. “Everyone gets along really well and genuinely enjoys spending time together,” he said. “So, getting an opportunity to share something like this with them just makes it all the more special.”
He is not the type to say “I told you so,” because he never was one to boast. He took the barbs in stride and is taking the honor the same way. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” said the man who has a placard outside Amalie Arena that bears these improbable but hopeful words, “Josh Bailey: All-Star.”
By the Numbers
Seasons with Isles: 10
Total games: 685
Total goals: 118
Total assists: 242
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