The following is a transcript of a telephone interview which took place on 4/20/2009. Matthew Barnaby is currently an NHL analyst on ESPN and played with the Penguins from 1999-2001. Read more about Barnaby here.
PU: Pens Universe (Damian Romano)
MB: Matthew Barnaby.
PU: First off, let me thank you for taking some time out to speak with us today. Despite only spending a few years in Pittsburgh you still have a big following there including myself. The Penguin fans would like to hear your opinion on a few questions.
MB: Its my pleasure.
PU: Okay, let me start off first by asking you who has made the biggest impact for the Penguins: Bylsma, Kunitz, or Guerin?
MB: I’m going to have to go with Kunitz. He fills a gap that wasn’t there in the beginning of the season. The Crosby line with Miroslav Satan just didn’t seem to work. I think Bylsma and Guerin are great, but Kunitz adds a much needed piece, a physical player who can also score. But that aside the Penguins are responding well the Bylsma.
PU: I have to agree. The Pens were in desperate need for a power forward to replace the likes of Ryan Malone and I think Kunitz fits that role well.
PU: I can probably anticipate your answer a little here (Hossa), but what do you think is the biggest difference in this years Penguins teams as compared to last years (post trade deadline)?
MB: Clearly the loss of Hossa was a shock, not only to the Penguins but really to the NHL. However I see a lot of similarities from this year to lasts. The acquisition of Kunitz and Guerin fill much needed roles. But what I see now from what I didn’t see at the beginning of the year is passion. They seem to be playing well and enjoy playing for Bylsma and have that passion back that got them into the Stanley Cup finals. Clearly having Gonchar back is a big help.
PU: No question they lost that drive, perhaps the Cup hangover. Let’s move on. What do you think is the key factor for the Pens to win this series vs. the Flyers?
MB: I think they’re playing really well. But the key is going to be their power play. Clearly the first half of the season it struggled quite a bit. The loss of Gonchar had a big impact. I even thought in game 3 they did a good job offensively, but were just outplayed. Philly plays physical and will get into the box quite a bit. If they can capitalize on the power play, that will make the difference.
PU: Petr Sykora said after the game they just got draw into the type of physical play and got away from their game altogether.
MB: Right, it got them off their game of north and south skill play.
PU: Do you think the Penguins have what it takes to get to the Stanley Cup this year?
MB: I think the East is wide open. I really think the Bruins are the favorite; they just have all the right pieces in place. But the Playoffs have shown us a different picture. The Sharks and Caps aren’t living up to their rank. The Penguins have been playing as good as they were last year heading into the playoffs and I think anything possible.
PU: I know the fans are hopeful and have plenty of confidence. Okay, it’s the “new-age” Penguin debate, Crosby or Malkin, who is better?
MB: Yeah, I hear this question a lot. They’re both great players. But if I was to start a team today I’d have to go with Crosby. I’m a big Crosby fan. I like his leadership, I love the way he plays, and he has great passion. Malkin has been very impressive all year winning the scoring title. And Malking really has something to prove this year as well. He didn’t play well in last years Cup finals and he’s already starting off well in the playoffs. But like I say, if I were to start a team today I would have to go with Crosby.
PU: Malkin already has 7 points in 3 games, quite impressive. I’m going to shift gear a little here. Who was the best player you skated along side of?
MB: Well I’ve played with some great players over the years. Peter Forsberg, Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Jagr. I’d have to say the most talented was Mario Lemieux. Just watching him do all the things he could do at his size was just amazing. He was one of a kind. I was fortunate to play with over 20 Hall of Famers. Although I would have to say the most dominant player I ever played with was Dominik Hasek. The way he carried a team on his back was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. He’s a true champion.
PU: That’s interesting. He was certainly one of the greats. Getting a little more personal here. What did you like most about playing in Pittsburgh?
MB: I’d say the fans. They were just so loyal and supportive in every sense. Being mostly blue-collar, I think they appreciated the way I played and my work ethic.
PU: Barnaby Brigade?
MB: Oh yeah, good times.
PU: What would you say was your most memorable moment as a Penguin?
MB: Has to be game 4 of the 2000 Conference semi’s against the Flyers where we had 5 OT’s. Primeau scored the game winner for them, but I don’t look at it as a loss, more of an experience. When you go through a game like that you really see what everyone is made of and you get to know your teammates well.
PU: I can imagine. Not many players experience a game like that. Okay, last question. A few months back Jaromir Jagr did an interview in which he stated he owes everything to Mario Lemiuex and if Mario asked him to play for the Penguins he would do so for the minimum salary. Do you think Lemieux would consider having Jagr back on the Pens?
MB: I think if Mario really had the opportunity to sign Jagr for $500,000.00 a year he would be dumb not to. Sure he’ll be 39-40 years old, but if he still has some of the skill and prowess than he absolutely should.
PU: I remember when Jagr asked to be traded and left on some bad terms being booed as often as he returned to Pittsburgh. But when the news came out about what Jagr said, the fans quickly put all of that behind them.
MB: I know this, should Mario sign Jagr that would really upset the rest of the NHL.
PU: Matthew, thanks for taking the time to speak with us at Pens Universe. We appreciate it, the Penguins fans appreciate it. We always look forward to your insight on ESPN on the NHL.
MB: Anytime. Thanks for having me Damian, take care.
Great Debate, Day 9: Odds of a Norris nod for Letang?
26 minutes ago