In his 925th career game as a member of the Ottawa Senators, Chris Phillips scored his first goal of the season on Saturday night. When the Senators play the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening, the veteran blue-liner will suit up for game number 926.
Senators GM Bryan Murray and Phillips agreed on a contract extension last night that will keep one of the team’s assistant captains in Ottawa for three more years. The $9.25 million contract is slightly less than his expiring deal, but Phillips made it clear as the trade deadline approached that he wanted to stay in Ottawa and eventually, the two sides were able to find common ground. If the deal was not made, there is no doubt that Phillips would have joined Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Brian Elliott and Alex Kovalev on the list of former Sens.
While Phillips is experiencing his toughest season in the NHL (1 goal, 4 assists and a -25), his numbers would look different if an Ottawa goaltender other than the recently acquired Craig Anderson was able to make a timely save through the first 58 games of the schedule. He has also spent much of the season paired up with sophomore Erik Karlsson; an excellent prospect as an offensive defenceman, but a liability at times in his own zone. Phillips has spent much of the season trying to do too much, which has led to many uncharacteristic giveaways of his own. While he would never admit the contract situation was a distraction, with the speculation about his future put to rest, don’t be surprised to see his play improve.
Phillips got what he wanted in this situation – an extension in Ottawa with only a slight pay cut. The question being asked today by hockey analysts is does this deal work for the Senators? Why keep a 32-year old defencemen as you begin the process of rebuilding your team? There is merit to that argument, but as the team gets younger, a veteran like Phillips remains a valuable asset in the locker room. He will take on the role of mentor for the young defenceman coming up through the Senators organization. While the spotlight is shining brightly on his numbers this year, it is important to look at his entire body of work on the Senators blue line; in 925 career games, he has 60 goals, 173 assists and he is +83.
There was plenty of interest around the league if he were to become available via trade or on the free agent market this summer, so why stay in Ottawa for less money? The answer is simple – he likes Ottawa. There is the business side to hockey, but there is also a personal side. It would not only be Phillips on the move, his entire family would be uprooted as well. It is quite possible he asked himself, where do I want my kids to grow up, and the answer was Ottawa. In this “show me the money” era, it is refreshing to see that Phillips wants to be a Senator for his entire career and remain active in the community. Ask former Senator Wade Redden if the grass (or the money) is greener on the other side of the fence.
It does not show weakness on Phillips’ part to stay in Ottawa as the team enters a rebuilding mode; it does not speak to his compete level. He is the ultimate competitor and like every other NHLer, he has a strong desire to win the Stanley Cup. Perhaps, he believes the champagne would not be as sweet if he is drinking from the Cup while wearing a different uniform.
The road to the Stanley Cup for Phillips and the Senators will be a difficult one. It may be years before this team is ready to challenge squads like the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers or the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Eastern Conference title, but Phillips wants the fans in Ottawa to experience another run to the Cup, and he wants to be one of the guys to help make that happen.