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Staying with Senators 'first choice' for Phillips

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Only captain Daniel Alfredsson has seen more duty with the Senators than Chris Phillips, who has played 863 games in an Ottawa jersey. The veteran blueliner hopes to sign a new contract with the Sens before he becomes a free agent next summer (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images).

Chris Phillips admits it's hard to even contemplate playing hockey anywhere else.

The veteran Ottawa Senators defenceman is entering the final year of his current contract but made it clear today he wants to finish his National Hockey League career exactly where he started it 12 seasons ago.

"It’s definitely tough to imagine having to put on another jersey," Phillips, 32, said after making a guest appearance at the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camps at the Bell Sensplex. "If I’m forced to do that, then that’s the case. But we’ll see what happens.

"If I can make (staying in Ottawa) happen, then that would be my first choice, for sure."

But Phillips, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, knows the nature of the hockey business. He saw it firsthand again earlier this summer, when longtime defence partner Anton Volchenkov signed a free-agent contract with the New Jersey Devils. His previous partner, Zdeno Chara, took the same route to join the Boston Bruins in 2006.

In fact, captain Daniel Alfredsson is the only teammate remaining on the Senators roster from Phillips' rookie season of 1996-97. Back in April, Alfredsson became the first to play 1,000 games in a Senators jersey; Phillips, who has 863 games of service in Ottawa, can join him in 2011-12 if he re-signs with the Sens.

"It’s definitely hard," Phillips said of seeing teammates leave. "You grow up with these guys, on and off the ice, but you also enter (the NHL) knowing it’s usually a matter of time. Some guys don’t (stay) long, some guys you play with a long time. Since I started ... everyone else (but Alfredsson) has moved on and new guys have come in. That’s the way the game goes."

But by the same token, Phillips is enthused about the prospect of seeing Sergei Gonchar, a much more offensive-minded blueliner, in an Ottawa uniform. He signed a free-agent contract with the Senators on July 1.

"It’s definitely hard. You grow up with these guys, on and off the ice, but you also enter (the NHL) knowing it’s usually a matter of time. Some guys don’t (stay) long, some guys you play with a long time. Since I started ... everyone else (but Alfredsson) has moved on and new guys have come in. That’s the way the game goes." - Chris Phillips
"It’s tough to lose Volchy, for our team and for me personally," said Phillips. "I played with him for a long time. But that’s the nature of the game. It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen with most guys. You move on and I’m excited about Gonchar being here. He brings a lot of elements to our team — the offensive side of the game, his experience, his experience winning (Stanley) Cups."

Count Phillips among those buying into the theory that, with Gonchar now on board, the best defence is often a stronger offence.

"You look at what (Volchenkov) did best and it’s tough to replace," said Phillips. "He’s arguably the best in the game at it. But when you’re blocking shots, (it means) the other team is shooting. Having a more offensive guy move the puck up to our forwards … maybe we’ll spend less time in our own zone and focus a little bit more on the offensive side of the game."

But for his part, Phillips plans to stay true to his defensive roots.

"I have to focus on that part of the game," he said. "That's who I am, (someone who is) reliable defensively, whether that is shutting a guy down or penalty killing or holding onto leads at the end of the game. Then if you chip in more offensively and have more of those opportunities, that's a bonus. But I still have to make the focus of my game defensive minded."





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