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Phillips happy to be staying put with Senators

by Arpon Basu /
KANATA, Ont. -- No more than 10 minutes after signing his name on the piece of paper that confirms he isn't going anywhere, a visibly relieved Chris Phillips said he doesn't feel the Ottawa Senators rebuilding process will last as long as everyone thinks.

At around 9:30 p.m. Sunday night Phillips chose to forego unrestricted free agency and took his name off the board for Monday's trade deadline by coming to terms with Senators GM Bryan Murray on a three-year, $9.25 million contract, keeping the rugged defenseman with the same franchise that drafted him with the first pick in the 1996 Entry Draft.

He actually signed the new contract after practice Monday morning, about three hours before the trade deadline and just before meeting reporters to say how confident he feels about the short-term future of the Senators.

"I already feel a confidence in the room that things are going in the right direction," Philips said. "Because of the standings and where we are it's been a tough year losing the guys that we've lost. But as we quickly turn things around, the commitment that (owner) Eugene (Melnyk) and management have to winning, we'll be adding instead of subtracting in the near future."

That may be hard for some to believe when they see Ottawa's 21-32-9 record that has the Senators 29th in the League standings. Still others may question why Phillips would chose to stay in a situation like this rather than waive his no-trade clause to go to a contending team.

But Phillips says there are a lot of other factors that go into a decision like this, not the least of which are his wife Erin and his three children.

"I know a lot of hockey people may question the decision because all they see is hockey," Philips said. "It's a lifestyle, it's family with the community and kids growing up in a community and being involved. I don't want to just lay it all on that as well. I love playing in Ottawa. We get treated unbelievable as hockey players not only in the community, but by the team as well. And on the ice I see things turning around."

He also made it clear that at his age -- he turns 33 on March 9 -- he still has time to switch teams and make a run for a Stanley Cup if it doesn't work out with Ottawa.

"I don't feel like this is my retirement deal, I've got lots of time to play," he said. "Hopefully I'll do that here, but maybe in my last year here I'll make that decision then. I'm not at that point and I'm excited about the future of this team."

Phillips said he was never approached by Murray with a concrete trade proposal, but he was made aware when teams began showing some interest in acquiring his services. He said some of them were enticing.

"I gave some thought to some," he said. "It was an interesting couple of weeks where you hear that some teams are maybe interested, but made moves so you didn't know if they were still in the running at the end. It just made more sense and felt right to stay here."

Murray said at least eight teams made inquiries about Phillips, but ultimately he was convinced the defenseman had a lot more to give and that the Senators were better off with him than they would have been without him.

"We know that early in the year he didn’t have his best going, but we think he's considerably better and has lots left in the tank," Murray said. "He definitely wanted to stay here, we talked long and hard at different stages over the course of the last month or more and I talked to his agent a number of times to make sure the commitment was there."

With all the departures the Senators have seen of late -- Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Brian Elliot, Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev have all been traded in the past two weeks -- it was nice for a veteran like Jason Spezza to see someone sticking around, for a change.

"He's been around here for a long time, he's a great leader in the room and a guy that a lot of guys lean on so we're happy to see him stay," Spezza said. "I think it's been trade deadline day for a few weeks for us now. It will be nice when it passes and we just kind of go ahead with the rest of the year."

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