|After mulling over offers from other teams, forward Chris Neil went with his heart and signed a new four-year deal with the Senators on Canada Day (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images).
In the end, Chris Neil
was happy to go with his heart.
After testing the waters of unrestricted free agency on Canada Day, the rugged winger chose to remain with the only team he’s ever played for in the National Hockey League. Neil and the Ottawa Senators agreed on a new four-year contract earlier tonight.
“I’m excited,” said Neil, who just completed his seventh season in a Senators uniform. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Senators. Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay with them for the rest of my career and end my career in Ottawa. It’s a great organization, it’s a great city and you can’t say enough about it.”
Though he reportedly received serious interest from at least three other teams, the 30-year-old Neil made it clear he wanted to stay with the Senators, who drafted him into the NHL in 1998. He hit the 500-game milestone with Ottawa during the 2008-09 season.
“I’m happy because Chris Neil
really wanted to be here,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said after finalizing an agreement with the veteran Neil. “We went to the final day and negotiated hard. I think he had some opportunities (with other teams) but he is a guy that fits well here, is a responsible player for us and the fact that he really wanted to be here was so important.”
Neil expressed that sentiment repeatedly as the days ticked down toward the July 1 free agency deadline.
“It came down to the dire moments of me going somewhere else but I’m so excited,” said Neil. “I can’t believe I’m going to be in Ottawa for the next four years, so I’m thrilled.
“My wife (Caitlin) is excited. We’ve had calls coming in from everywhere and it was an exciting day for both of us, trying to make up our mind on stuff. But it just didn’t seem right being anywhere else. It’s that gut feeling that you get. You like to know in your gut that you’re going to be happy where you’re going to be. I didn’t have that feeling with some of the other teams that called.
“Just to be back in the Sens uniform and to be (in Ottawa) … playing alongside my buddies that I’ve played with for so long, it’s great.”
"It just didn’t seem right being anywhere else. It’s that gut feeling that you get. You like to know in your gut that you’re going to be happy where you’re going to be. I didn’t have that feeling with some of the other teams that called. Just to be back in the Sens uniform and to be (in Ottawa) … playing alongside my buddies that I’ve played with for so long, it’s great." - Chris Neil
Murray sensed that feeling when he delivered the good news to Neil.
“He actually called me late in the evening and we talked and to me, he was elated after I told him we could make the deal,” said Murray.
While the three goals and 10 points Neil recorded in 2008-09 were career lows, so, too were the 60 games he played (he missed 22 others because of injuries and illness). And both Murray and head coach Cory Clouston know full well his value goes way beyond his scoring totals.
“(Neil) is what he is,” said Murray. “He’s a very strong player, he’s a physical player for us and he can look after tough guys on other teams. He can certainly play the game. Talking to Cory … going forward, there will be occasions when he’ll play on the power play, have the net presence that Chris is able to provide.
“He is an important core guy on our team as far as leadership is concerned.”
The native of Flesherton, Ont., was Ottawa’s sixth-round pick (161st overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. He is the franchise’s all-time leader with 1,298 penalty minutes.