|Chris Phillips is the Senators' man for shutting down any team's top line. Phillips video|
John Paddock, who has since been relieved of his duties as coach of the Senators, said he felt the Senators had four players with All-Star pedigree.
"I think Chris Phillips was deserving of it," said Paddock, who coached the Eastern Conference squad this season. "I was certainly disappointed that he wasn't chosen. But defensive defensemen don't get picked very often, if they ever get picked. It's too bad. It's not that the guys who move the puck aren't important to a team because you have to have guys who can do that."
First and foremost, Paddock is referring to the rock-solid play of Phillips in the Senators' end of the ice, where the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman plays a cerebral yet physical style of defense with the purpose of shutting down the other team's top line.
"Chris is more of a defensive defenseman and defense is not one of the criteria used when players get picked for the All-Star Game," Alfredsson said. "He has really found his role now. There might be a few guys as good as him in the whole League at shutting down the opposition. He is really taking pride in that. His value on our team is also related to the leadership that he brings, his experience, and being a calming influence on the younger guys and especially on our defense. We appreciate what he does on our team but he doesn't get a lot of attention in the media."
Although Phillips himself doesn't garner many headlines, his defensive assignment every night is to neutralize marquee players who are consistently in the limelight. The first player chosen overall in the 1996 Entry Draft, Phillips is able to match wits with the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Vincent Lecavalier because he can think the game at such a high level.
His hockey smarts are complemented by excellent mobility and stick skills. Phillips is strong and agile on his skates, which makes him adept at gaining position against the opposition, and his quick stick enables him to deflect pucks with precision. He can carry the puck out of the defensive zone, but he prefers to move it crisply to the quick Ottawa forwards and then join the play as it heads up ice. There's nothing flashy in his game, but if goaltenders were picking the All-Star team, you can be sure that Phillips would be included, as defensive mainstays are the goalie's best friend.
Phillips is reminiscent of Edmonton Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe during his 19-year playing career.
"Yes he is," says Ron Low, who was both a teammate and coach of Lowe and who coached Phillips for a time in Ottawa. "Chris is a lot like Kevin. He can move the puck and he will make a great play now and again. But basically you don't really notice him in a game and those are the kind of defensemen that are by far and away the best to have on your team.
"There are also common leadership qualities in both Kevin and Chris. In our dressing room (team captain Daniel Alfredsson) and Chris are pretty much the voice in the room. The players listen to them. They are absolutely respected. Kevin was unbelievable in the Oilers' dressing room and would stand up and say something when things had to be said. And I don't mean in a bad way, but in very positive, constructive way. Chris Phillips and Kevin Lowe have a lot in common."
Both spent the majority of their careers surrounded by more celebrated teammates.
"Chris is a guy that doesn't get enough credit," teammate Jason Spezza said. "He plays big minutes for us and shuts down the other team's top guys. Chris is a big reason why we win so many hockey games."
While Lowe quickly eased into his role as the defensive alter-ego to the offensively gifted Paul Coffey, it has taken a few years for Phillips to find his niche as one of the game's most trusted defenders.
"I had some injury problems early in my career," said the 30-year-old who was born in Calgary and raised in the northern Alberta oil town of Fort McMurray. "I was in and out of the lineup, playing a little forward and really trying to find my identity. Then I played the better part of four years alongside Zdeno Chara. The experience of playing against the top lines has certainly helped because you learn through experience. I learned a lot just being in those game situations and it has carried over into my present game."
Although not prolific on the offensive side of the puck, Phillips puts important points on the board. The Senators' assistant captain has scored 45 career regular-season goals, including two games in which he scored twice. Ottawa's record during games in which Phillips has scored is a remarkable 34-4-5.
"He scores big goals," said Alfredsson. "There's no question about his ability to come through in the clutch. If he feels he doesn't need to join the rush he is not going to do it. But if he feels there's an opportunity or a time in the game where we need a goal he will join more rushes and that's where he seems to be very timely with scoring goals."
Phillips can contribute offense, but his bread and butter remains shutting it down. For those who most appreciate the defensive game, he is a star with few equals.