Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Islanders fans have been desiring a 'true' first line for some time now. To be more specific, a true 'first-line winger' to play with captain John Tavares.
Last season, it wasn't quite good enough that Josh Bailey combined with Tavares and rapidly improving Anders Lee to forge a line that combined for 75 goals -- 31 percent of the team's overall production -- and 174 points. This year, through 13 games, it's even higher at 48 percent.
'He'll regress,' they said. 'He will come back down to earth and be the player he's always been offensively,' they added. 'He doesn't shoot enough' was screamed from the rooftops. And my personal favorite of all, 'How many of his assists are secondary assists, though?'
Before we proceed, a secondary assist is just as powerful as the primary. To break down just one such instance, on Tavares' power play goal Monday night at Barclays Center against the Golden Knights, Bailey took command of the puck in the offensive zone on a power play, twisted at the faceoff circle to buy himself some space, played a perfect pass to Nick Leddy at the point, allowing the shot that the captain eventually deflected in, tying the game and propelling New York to an eventual 6-3 win.
"Josh has been so important to our line," the captain said on Monday night. "Heck of a player, doesn't get nearly enough credit and not just his offensive ability, which is really flourishing, but his all-around game. To win games, you need guys like him. He's also grown into a great leader in the locker room, the young guys really look up to him. Been a lot of fun to play with him, he's a good friend and he makes the offensive part of the game a bit easier."
Since being reunited in the third period of the team's 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 26, the top trio has been nearly unstoppable, often drawing the opponent's top defensive pair and logging the most minutes of all the forwards.
Over the course of the past four games, the numbers are staggering. Tavares has continued to light the league on fire with six goals and an assist, Lee has produced three goals and five assists, and Bailey has collected nine assists and is on a league high eight-game point-scoring streak. It's also indisputable that Bailey is the most responsible player defensively of the three and one of the top on the entire roster.
The talk in the offseason was that Jordan Eberle was going to slide into that spot on the right wing and Bailey would never put up the same numbers without the captain to 'pad' his statistics. Well, Bailey did just fine on his own, producing seven points in 8 ½ games prior to the reunion. And Eberle has looked fantastic on his own as well, combining with up and coming Mathew Barzal and a rejuvenated Andrew Ladd to form a powerful second unit.
"Sometimes, you just mesh well with certain guys," Bailey said when I asked him about the remarkable chemistry. "Obviously, when you got Johnny (Tavares) down the middle, he's such a threat at all times and Anders brings a great element to the line, doing all the dirty work. I think it just works. It's been fun to be back with those guys and we hope to continue this success."
Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, Bailey is coming off a five-year, $16 million deal he signed in 2013. At a cap hit of only $3.3 million, that is sure to go up in the NHL's current financial environment. He has also positioned himself well for a hefty raise, increasing his point-per-game average from an average of 0.49 to 0.68 last year to current 1.23 over the course of the deal. If history is any indication, I wouldn't expect anything in terms of an extension to be discussed or solved any time soon, but that doesn't mean the Islanders don't want him back.
"He's been a high character guy off the ice, very talented on it. He doesn't get the credit he deserves. We think the world of him and he's another player we want to keep here long-term," GM Garth Snow told Sirius XM NHL radio Friday morning.
"We know what Josh brings to this team. Very creative, more of a pass-first mindset and the chemistry with John. As a staff, we've heard rumblings of 'we need to find a winger for John'. I don't think that's really been an issue and don't know where it comes from."
Whatever the Islanders decide to do with Bailey at the end of the season is anyone's guess, but we can surely enjoy the ride, can't we? Seems like the top three sure are and the they have the numbers to prove it.