|Whether it's during off-season workouts or in the heat of battle, Chris Neil provides a hard-working example for his Ottawa Senators teammates whenever he's at the rink (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
They see it in the way he attacks his workouts each day, whether it's in the height of hockey season or the searing heat of an Ottawa summer.
Such dedication can't help but rub off on some of his youngest team members, Senators general manager Bryan Murray said today. And it is a big reason the team felt it was important to lock up veteran forward Chris Neil for another three seasons beyond 2012-13, which would have been the final year of his contract.
"He's a very important member of our team," Murray said after officially inking Neil to a three-year extension earlier today. "He's been a consistent, hard player for us. He's a committed player. He's in the gym year round ... he's there most of the summer and he's a great example for our young players coming in. He's a good player, he gets some points for us and at the big times of the year, he's one of the players that the coach counts on."
Neil is best known for his physical play — he is the Senators' all-time leader in penalty minutes with 1,861 and routinely ranks among the National Hockey League's leaders in hits — and his hard-working style made an impact in the first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, when he was one of Ottawa's top forwards. Neil's overtime goal providing the winning edge for the Senators in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.
But Murray believes Neil's positive effect on the team extends well beyond the games.
"The example he provides is more than the vocal part, although Chris is very willing to speak up," said Murray said of Neil, who's also recorded 90 goals and 200 points in 731 games. "The face he shows up every day the way he does ... it's a year-round commitment for Chris. He comes to rink during the season and he's on the ice early and stays later. I don't think I've ever heard a coach say 'Chris Neil didn't work hard today at practice.'
"In the off-season, he's in the gym most days. We have (Mark) Borowiecki and (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau and kids like that hanging around now and they see Chris Neil there. Those are the leadership characteristics and qualities that he brings (to the team) that help us make headway in our overall fitness level and the commitment level on the part of the other players."
It's a mindset that Neil will tell you he learned from watching captain Daniel Alfredsson, a 16-year NHL veteran and someone that he and the Senators hope will return next season. Murray and Alfredsson spoke last week, with the Ottawa GM emerging from the conversation with an optimistic feeling.
"There is still no final decision on anything, but very definitely it was a good conversation, if I can say that," said Murray, who said the Senators lineup will have "a tremendous hole" if the captain doesn't return. "I'm just waiting to find out for sure which way we are going to go. I've always had that feeling, that Alfie wanted to play a little longer, but he hasn't made that commitment to me (yet).
"We did talk about the team, we talked about what was happening around the team, the additions and subtractions. So that tells me there's some real interest on his part. I think it's as a player. I don't think it's in the off-ice part of his career at this point in time. The impression I got was a good one."