Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Josh Bailey's job to lose

Starting against Ottawa tonight at the Coliseum, Josh Bailey has seven more games in which to lose an roster spot he's already shown he has the skill level to handle. The Senators make a return visit to the Coliseum two weeks from tonight, and if I had to make a wager on it, I'd bet Bailey will be in the Islanders' lineup for his 10th game, which would mean that, while he still could return to Windsor or play in the World Junior championships, the first year would come off his entry-level contract. Isles coach Scott Gordon couldn't have been more clear about where he stands on Bailey's position on the team at the pre-game skate today. Only 17-year veteran and former All-Star Doug Weight has more playmaking skill than Bailey on this team, Gordon said. Meanwhile, teams like Dallas and Philadelphia have three pretty good playmakers in the middle. As much as Gordon liked what he saw from Bailey in rookie camp and the first part of training camp, the 19-year-old gave him pause with his performance in his first exhibition against Philadelphia on Sept. 25 in London, Ont. "I almost felt like he wasn't ready because he seemed real tentative," Gordon said. Bailey suffered the lower body injury in that game that put him on the shelf until he was activated to face the Flyers on Tuesday. Except for two offensive-zone penalties, he played well in that game, and Bailey took another step in Thursday's 3-1 win at Ottawa, assisting on a goal by Kyle Okposo and logging more than five minutes of power-play time out of his 13 minutes on the ice. "What he's done is eliminated those thoughts I had in that exhibition game against Philadelphia," Gordon said. "He hasn't played at a junior pace. So, that's very encouraging. Whether he'll be able to maintain that through these nine games will probably dictate whether he stays here or goes back to junior. "I think the bonus for us if he's able to stay here is that it accelerates his progress for next year. If he goes back to junior, granted he'll play a lot. But he'll play at a pace that he should be above. Then, it's a situation where he comes in next year and has to start over getting back into our system versus what they're doing in Windsor. If he's able to come in here and play at an pace through nine games, at least we'll have a better read on what the right thing is to do for this year and next year." Gordon said Bailey has an exceptional maturity level and the intelligence to adapt very quickly to the demands placed upon him. Where some 20-year-olds coming out of juniors would go straight to the minors to develop, Gordon said Bailey would be an exceptional talent at the AHL level right now. Following his performance in Ottawa the other night, there was something about the way Bailey handled himself in the postgame interview session that gave me the feeling he sees himself as an player now. So, I asked Gordon for his take. "I can tell you the conversation I had in the third period," the coach said. "[Jason] Spezza and [Dany] Heatley went on the ice, and it was at a time out and Josh's line was going. He says to me, 'Do you want me to change?' I said, 'No, I want to see that you can play against Spezza and Heatley in a 3-1 game.' I can't evaluate a guy if I don't see what's going to go wrong. I've got to evaluate the guy with the assumption that he's going to do the right things, and he ended up having a good shift out there." So, if Bailey already is the Isles' second-best playmaker, what's the argument to send him back to Windsor? "That's what we'll find out in the games," Gordon said. "If he clearly establishes himself as the second-best guy, that's what we'll have to base our decision on." Lets' say Bailey passes that test. Now, the top three centers are Weight, Bailey and rookie Frans Nielsen. That leaves Mike Comrie (when his surgically repaired hip is stronger), Richard Park and Nate Thompson (when he recovers from a strained groin) as the players most likely to center the fourth line. All three also can play on the wing, as Comrie did during training camp when Bailey was healthy. If there's no dropoff by Bailey over the next two weeks, that's what will happen. ISLES FILES: Any other day, the big news would be that defenseman Brendan Witt has been cleared for contact and is back practicing with the team. D Radek Martinek returns tonight from his right shoulder injury and should be reunited with his regular partner in another six days. Witt's injured knee will be examined by the medical staff before the game, but so far, there's been no swelling. It's just over three weeks since he was injured, and the timetable for his return was 4-6 weeks. Witt wants to make sure the strength is good, but right now, his goal is to return next Friday at New Jersey with the expectation of playing three games in four nights, including Saturday in Buffalo and Monday in Montreal. Asked if he might consider playing just two of those three, Witt said: "To me, if I can only play two out of the three, it's not ready, and I'm not going to put the team in that situation. I'd never do that." Hmmmmm, interesting…Here's what Gordon had to say about the five-game suspension D Thomas Pock received for the elbow he delivered to the head of Ottawa rookie Ryan Shannon: "I think the league has taken a pro-active approach. They sent out a FAX yesterday discussing Ruutu [Ottawa's Jarkko Ruutu, who received two games for a head shot] and Pock. They said here's two guys who aren't repeat offenders, and here's what the suspensions are. It brings attention to the fact Thomas Pock has never done anything like this and he's getting five games. I think Thomas got himself in a situation where maybe he panicked as Shannon was going by him and his initial reaction was just to stop him. It wasn't so much that he was trying to hurt Ryan. That's not his makeup. But in those situations, you have to have a little more caution."…Isles goaltender Joey MacDonald is set to make his seventh straight start tonight...Oops, almost forgot that former Mets and Yankees star Darryl Strawberry is dropping the puck tonight on behalf of autism awareness. This morning, he met Massachusetts native Gordon, who told him, "You broke my heart in '86.'" Strawberry laughed and said, "Oh no, not another Red Sox fan."Source

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