When the Islanders open training camp on Thursday, Josh Bailey will be in an unfamiliar Ottawa Senators jersey trying to keep his NHL career alive and Zach Parise will be at home with his family in Minnesota, with others left to wonder whether he will ever play again.
Of course, the NHL is a transient business. But the absence of the veteran wings has impacted their former Islander teammates.
“Those guys have been great for the locker room,” Mathew Barzal said. “I’ve been with Bails since my first day here. It’s going to stink not seeing him in the room. Obviously it’s a business and it happens.”
“We support Zach and everything he’s going through,” captain Anders Lee said. “He just meant so much to our room and to our team. His game is still there. He can play this game for a long time. I’m excited for him and the next stage of his life. Being a family man is really important to him.”
Bailey, who turns 34 on Oct. 2, ended last season as the longest-tenured Islander and third on the team’s all-time list with 1,057 games since being selected ninth overall in 2008. But he was a healthy scratch for 10 of the final 12 games and for all six first-round playoff games and said after the season he did not want to return in a limited role.
President/general manager Lou Lamoriello traded Bailey to Chicago on June 29 for future considerations, and Chicago promptly made him an unrestricted free agent by buying out the final season of his six-year, $30 million deal.
Bailey agreed last week to a professional tryout offer with the Senators.
“It’s going to be different,” Lee said. “Bails has been a cornerstone and foundation for this room and this team for a long time and had such an impactful career here on the Island. I’m excited to see what he does in Ottawa. It’s a great chance for him. I can’t speak higher about his friendship and his meaning to this team.”
“It’s part of the business, for sure,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “It happens everywhere. At the same time, Bails was such a good guy that got along with everyone and everyone loved him. You understand that part of it. You can’t keep everyone. There’s business to be done and that’s the way it worked out.”
Parise, 39, made the decision to not attend training camp after two seasons with the Islanders, including 21 goals and 13 assists last season, and 18 NHL seasons overall. But Lamoriello was quick to say Parise had not retired and there would be a roster spot for him if he chooses to continue his career at some point.
“Zach had a great year last year,” Barzal said. “Beside from being a good player, he also brings a work ethic off the ice and professionalism every day. He’s fun to be around. So, Zach, if you’re watching, get back here. We’d love to have him back.”