TAMPA, FL–There wasn’t a second in which I thought the New York Islanders didn’t have the talent and drive to make the playoffs in 2013. Another slow start and the same reoccurring bad habits were frustrating to watch, but they never gave me enough reason to believe this team couldn’t and/or wouldn’t play hockey in May.
Admittedly, I tossed some criticism towards a few particular players: Josh Bailey was playing the same, inconsistent brand of hockey known for throughout his career; Kyle Okposo was skating but NOT scoring– one goal through seventeen games from our second-line winger wasn’t going to cut it. I mean, I went as far to say that a ‘change of scenery’ was probably best for Kyle if his production didn’t pick up by the mid-way point.
Happily, it’s time for me to eat some crow. For after the majority of us labeled Josh and Kyle as busts, demanded them to be traded (usually in absurd, unrealistic packages), and came to the “realization” that they should never wear the Islanders’ crest again, Bailey and Okposo have been playing the best hockey of their careers. Without them, the Islanders wouldn’t think let alone be in the playoffs.
Ironic, huh? Poetic justice, really.
Just like the Islanders, Josh Bailey appeared to have their one-way ticket punched to “anywhere but here.” Fortunately for us arm-chair GMs, it’s not too late to take it back.
Halfway through this truncated season, things were quite gloomy in Islander country. Twenty-four games into the season, Kyle had scored two goals and four assists for six points. How did he/would he expect to win us over? I mean, it wasn’t a lack of effort preventing him from scoring, but the expectation to do so. After said twenty-four-goal campaign in 2011-12, the Islanders gave Kyle a shot as John Tavares’ winger to start 2013 and it just didn’t work out.
Fans were growing impatient. I was one of them. We saw Kyle’s slow start drag the Isles down last season and we weren’t ready to watch him do it again – not with fewer games to play.
Moreover, the Islanders’s glaring omissions with regards to proficiency and productivity overshadowed their mild success in the standings. Pieces were missing to the Isles, most specifically, awaiting the arrival of that top-six winger– you know, the one they thought they had in Kyle. It’s better late than never, though.
The second half of the season arrived, and Kyle Okposo awoke from his slumber. But now his production matched his continued effort, as well as his level of courage on both the blue line and deep in the corners. Through twenty-three second-half games, Kyle has added just two more goals, but fourteen more assists. That’s much better, Kyle, and it’s no coincidence that Josh Bailey came alive around the same time.
Bailey’s career has taken a strange trajectory since being drafted him in 2008. His career-highs of 16 goals 35 points were set in his sophomore season, but never matched over the following three. Sure, there were moments in between that met some of the Front Office’s initial expectations, but then there were more disappointments to be had. Take for example a five-point night in 2011-12, and a six-game points-streak last season. But Bailey never seemed to maintain any type of consistency.
But the fact is some players develop slower than others, and Josh Bailey is seemingly a prime candidate for such a label. Another slow-start that saw Bailey take eleven games to score his first goal of the season made Isles’ fans sob, but those tears have dried up over this recent eighteen-game stretch that has seen the Isles go 11-2-5. Bailey has added eleven points (7-4-11) in the first fifteen games of this stretch, including a two-goal game against the Bruins.
Another fun fact: Bailey has taken 76 shots on goal through 38 games this season. Right off the bat, you may ask why does this statistic worth mentioning? Well, Bailey registered 104 shots in 80 games last season. Bailey career-high is 112 shots through 73 games during the 2009-10 season. Bailey is on pace for 164 shots in a full 82-game campaign. His 25-goal pace can be directly attributed to his willingness to [finally] shoot the puck.
The next question should say it all: Who wants to see Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey moved now? Show of hands? Yes? No? Suddenly, Kyle Okposo’s extension looks like a bargain again. Suddenly, most of us want Josh Bailey to re-sign, which may not have been the case when you told another Isles’ fan that he is slated for restricted free agency in July. It’s fair to say that Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey have taken their sweet time developing for the New York Islanders, but perhaps labeling them “busts” may have been a bit premature. Perhaps the better word is boon, as the two former top-ten picks couldn’t have found their game at a better time.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment!