On the eve of his 500th game – all with the New York Islanders – Josh Bailey
has learned a thing or two about longevity in the NHL. There’s a lot that goes into playing 500 games – he hits that milestone Monday vs. Colorado – a combination of skill, health and being able to learn and adapt along the way.
It’s been just over eight years since Bailey broke into the League and if he could offer advice to his 18-year-old self, it’d be to develop a short-term memory and always keep cool.
“It’s just a really short-term mindset that I’ve adapted over the years,” Bailey said. “Early on you can get a little worked up, a little high after a big win or a good game and a little low after a tough loss or a poor game individually. Learning how to handle the ups and downs and stay even keel throughout the year is one of the most important things about being a professional.”
Playing his first game on Nov. 11, 2008, Bailey is the second-longest tenured Islander on the club and second in two seasons to hit 500 career games – all with the Islanders. (Frans Nielsen did it last season and Kyle Okposo (474 games) is 26 away from hitting the same milestone.) He's also the 25th Islander to play 500 games with the franchise. It’s a special milestone for the kid from Bowmanville, Ontario, with the added romance of doing it with the same team.
“Nowadays you don’t always see that happen, so I’m pretty proud to have been here as long as I have been and be with one organization as special as the Islanders from day one,” Bailey said. “It’s like home to me now.”
The Islanders selected Bailey ninth overall in 2008. Bailey made the jump to the NHL the next season, playing 68 games while tallying 25 points (7G, 18A) in his rookie year and followed it up with 35 points (16G, 19A) the season after. Despite two productive seasons, Bailey was not immune to the ups and downs of being a young player in the NHL. He spent 11 games playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers the next season.
“It’s not easy for anyone to come into this League when you’re 18 years old,” Nielsen said. “He came in, was moving around, playing center, playing wing. It’s understandable that it takes time to figure out your role.”
Drafted as a center, Bailey has become a full-time winger for the Islanders and has become one of the team’s reliable two-way players. It’s the product of patience, preparation and perseverance.
“He’s probably one of our smartest players,” Nielsen said. “The small plays you don’t always see, he makes all the time on the ice.”
“He’s become a huge part of this team and we count on him. When Josh plays well, usually the team plays well too. He does a lot, he’s on the power play, the penalty kill, he’s an all-around player. He’s really good defensively and at the same time he’s a smart player offensively.”
Bailey has hovered around .5 points-per-game since the 2012-13 season, scoring a career-high 41 points (15G, 26A) in 70 games last year. He has 12 points (5G, 7A) in 23 games this season with goals in two straight and points in four of his last five games.
“It’s a process of becoming a pro,” Bailey said. “As a rookie you don’t put too much stock into what a veteran guy really knows and goes through. I’ve been here for a while now, you just pick little things along the way, different ways you prepare for games and a different mindset really.”
“You just learn how to handle the ups and downs better.”
The ups include the playoffs, his favorite and most memorable moments as an Islander. Bailey had five points (2G, 3A) in the Islanders series against the Washington Capitals. He’s not contradicting his mantra of even-keeled, short-term thinking, but rather using it as motivation to get back and advance further.
“Those home games in the playoffs are something I’ll never forget,” Bailey said. “It just makes you hungry for more.”
At 26, Bailey reached 500 games at a relatively young age. Only three players from his draft class – Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn – have played more games. He doesn’t get caught up in the moment too much, but he’s happy to have reached the milestone with some of his closest friends like Nielsen and wants two things going forward – a chance to win with the Islanders and to …
“Play another 500 more.”