by John McGourty - NHL.com Feature ------------------------------------------------------------ This city has some of the greatest toy stores in the world in F.A.O. Schwarz and the giant, new Toys 'R Us store in Times Square. Thousands of kids will visit them this holiday season.
None will have bigger smiles than Matthew Barnaby upon learning he'd been traded to the New York Rangers by the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the 28-year-old Ottawa native, it's the dream of a lifetime.
"I'm very excited to be coming here," Barnaby said. "It's my first chance to play in a big market where hockey is No. 1. That makes me really excited to come to a place where hockey is in the forefront. It's a pressure situation and I'll throw both feet in. It should be a lot of fun."
Barnaby, who has twice led the NHL in penalty minutes, including last season which he split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, was acquired by General Manager Glen Sather to bring more energy and feistiness.
"Our team has been in a funk the last four or five games so we need to find a way to get out of it," Sather said.
There's some concern that Barnaby is not the same player that he was before his first NHL club, the Buffalo Sabres, traded him to Pittsburgh during the 1998-99 season for Stu Barnes, who later became Sabres' captain.
The trade cost him a chance to play for the 1999 Stanley Cup in which the Dallas Stars beat Buffalo in six games. That had to be galling for Barnaby who had seven goals and six assists in 15 playoff games the previous season when he helped Buffalo to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were beaten in six games, losing in overtime at home to the Washington Capitals. Barnaby had the game-winning goal in the second game against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinal that year.
"I've had problems with my skates in years past but that is behind me now," Barnaby said. "I'm skating better than I did when I had my good years in Buffalo. I think I can be a better player than when I was in Buffalo and had a good run in the playoffs and the year before when I scored 19 goals. I feel like I can be that kind of player again. I can generate things with intensity and tenacity. That creates a lot of my chances. I can't get rid of that part of my game because that's where my offense comes from. I feel like I can add a bit of offense."
Sather and Barnaby agree a change of scenery should help.
"I'm happy he's here," Sather said. "I think he's a guy who is going to bring another dimension of energy and enthusiasm. He can skate and pass the puck and he scored some goals in this League in the past. Sometimes a guy gets in a situation that doesn't work and he gets to another city and gets rejuvenated. He'll put some spark in our team."
"The last two teams I played on I didn't get much ice time," Barnaby said. "Maybe it was the wrong situations or the wrong place at the wrong time.
Matthew Barnaby will bring a lot of spirit to the Rangers
"I'll be playing with great players such as Mark Messier, who is an icon, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros, those are names you don't hear every day, especially where I'm coming from before," he continued. "It's an exciting time. They started off well and recently hit a little slide. Winning is the most important thing in hockey and that's something I had gotten away from. It's not fun losing and that's why I'm excited to come where winning is the most important thing and it is expected of you every single day."
Sather wouldn't confirm that Coach Ron Low intends to use Barnaby at right wing on a line with center Petr Nedved and left wing Radek Dvorak. They haven't found a linemate that complements them as Jan Hlavac did last year. Hlavac was traded to Philadelphia in the Eric Lindros deal.
"That's Ron's decision. I haven't talked to him about where Barnaby is going to play," Sather said. "Barnaby is a lot more physical. He checks well, he's enthusiastic and brings a lot of spirit to the game. Hlavac, when he was on that line, they had a different kind of chemistry and it worked very well. Now, he's not here so there's no sense living in the past. Barnaby is going to bring a different dimension. If not, somebody else will be there."
Barnaby is enthused that Rangers see more than an "enforcer" when they look at him. He had 19 goals and 43 assists in 68 games in 1996-97 and thinks he can beat those numbers with sufficient ice time.
"Playing two or three minutes a night, it didn't lead to my being successful," Barnaby said. "I hated going home without sweat on my body. I think I was expected to just fight the heavyweights. That's not something I mind doing but for me to get my full value or add a dimension to a team I need to play minutes and get under peoples' skins. It's tough to get under their skin when you're only playing two minutes. They say to themselves, 'I'm not going to bother with you because you're only playing two minutes.' I would go home not feeling that I had achieved anything."
Barnaby said that throughout his career he gets an extra charge when he plays at Madison Square Garden or in Philadelphia.
Matthew Barnaby had his best statistical season in 1996-97 with 19 goals and 24 assists.
"I absolutely love this building," he said. "The first thing I said to my wife was how excited I was to be able to play in this building on a regular basis and call it home. The intensity and the ability to feed off the crowd is a big part of my game. When the fans get into it and my teammates get into it and the game is on the line, I feel that's when I play my best.
"It's kind of ironic the first game was against my old team (Buffalo) where I had some success," he said. "I look forward to starting my Rangers' career against Buffalo and it's going to be an exciting night.
"The only Ranger that I've played with is Steve McKenna in Pittsburgh and we got to be really good friends in that short period of time," Barnaby said. "I've talked to him and said I look forward to it and he said the guys are wonderful. That's what the game is all about: Camaraderie and that builds on the ice. From what I see of the way people get along, it's going to be a fun year."