New York Islanders: The Josh Bailey Move to Center
By Brian Wagner
Newsday had a blurb a few days ago about Barry Trotz’s comments regarding a New York Islanders contingency plan to temporarily move Josh Bailey to center if Brock Nelson was out for some time, but shouldn’t that be the permanent move?
The New York Islanders were lucky to avoid any major injury with Brock Nelson, having him only miss a period of action after the questionable hit by Ian Cole, but Trotz’s comments after that mirror what many of us have thought about moving Bailey to center.
"“It didn’t come to this because Brock Nelson was able to play in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win at Arizona after taking defenseman Ian Cole’s knee just above his own knee and missing the third period of Monday night’s 4-1 win at Colorado. But here was Trotz’s contingency plan: Move Josh Bailey from Matthew Barzal’s right wing to Nelson’s spot between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, elevate Leo Komarov to Barzal’s line and insert Tom Kuhnhackl back on the third line.”"
(Per Newsday, 12/23/18)
The first thing this would solve is the opportunity to move Nelson to the wing. He has shown goal-scoring potential this year and has made more than a few incredible moves with the puck on his stick, so why not let him focus on where his shot and one-on-one stickhandling can shine?
The second and most important solution this provides is on the top six center answer. Josh Bailey has excelled at the right wing, but his talents are more well-suited to a center role. He is a pass-first player with excellent vision and creativity with the puck.
Building upon that, he is also having his best two-way season of his career, with a +/- good for second on the team through 35 games. This is the stuff that makes a great top six center – giving your wingers the best opportunity to score and playing accountable defense.
We’ve already seen the chemistry that Bailey has built with Anders Lee over the years, and as much as John Tavares had a role in Lee’s rise to prominence, Bailey was as much (if not more) important in that growth. He simply makes those around him better.
Here’s how it would look with Trotz’s plan, but putting Nelson back in the lineup.
Beauvillier – Barzal – Nelson
Lee – Bailey – Eberle
Komarov – Filppula – Ho-Sang
Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Immediately this solves the New York Islanders short and long-term challenges with a top six center. Gone now are the big contracts for Matt Duchene or the gouging of the prospect pool for a center.
This also covers the Islanders down the middle should they move Brock Nelson at the trade deadline. Bailey is signed long-term and the Islanders have the most forward depth at the wings anyway.
This now opens up a more regular role for a right winger like Josh Ho-Sang or Oliver Wahlstrom when he’s ready, or even Michael Dal Colle or Kieffer Bellows playing on their off wing.
Can you think of many veteran playmakers that would benefit young players entering the league more than Josh Bailey?
Here’s how it would look with the prospects getting their chances (and assuming Nelson and Eberle are dealt and Filppula not resigned).
Bellows – Bailey – Ho-Sang
Lee – Barzal – Wahlstrom
Dal Colle – Beauvillier – Komarov
Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Barzal, Bailey and Beauvillier, Cizikas up the middle now gives the Islanders a very strong core of centers to build around.
Sure, Bailey has not been a full-time center since he was in the Ontario Hockey League. He has career 43% faceoff percentage. He’s not “tough”.
Mat Barzal has a career 42.1% faceoff win percentage and certainly wouldn’t be confused for a tough guy, but he’s been one of the best in the league since he entered.
Keep in mind that Anders Lee has been taking quite a few offensive-zone faceoffs instead of Brock Nelson, and that and his 50.5% faceoff win percentage could continue that way with Bailey in that center spot.
For me, this is an obvious move for both team success this year as well as long-term player/cap management moving into next year and beyond. I’ve been pining for Bailey at center for a while. He gives players around him the best chance to succeed, and that only helps the Isles as they build a consistent contender.