|Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips is in his 13th season with the Senators and couldn't be happier to sign a three-year extension to stay with the team and the community he has grown so attached to over the years (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
In the end, Chris Phillips
simply wasn't ready to walk away from the only National Hockey League home he has ever known.
Not to mention the community that means so much to him and his family.
"It's the right decision for me," the veteran defenceman said in discussing the three-year contract extension he signed with the Ottawa Senators earlier today. "I'm excited about it."
So it is that, as the franchise moves toward a more youthful future, it will still have the guiding hand of Phillips, who is now primed to join captain Daniel Alfredsson
as the only players to suit up for 1,000 games in a Senators jersey — a milestone he is on pace to reach just past the midway point of the 2011-12 season.
"We wanted Chris back ... we need some experience, we need some leadership in the dressing room and he provides that for us," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He does a lot of good things. I know he’s struggled this year — no one’s going to deny that — but he’s still very valuable to this club. He still has some good years left in him. In the last little while, he’s played his best hockey.
"We’re excited that he’s back. I think it’s real positive for the organization."
Added centre Jason Spezza
: "It's great for our team to keep a veteran guy like Philly. He's been around for a long time, he's a great leader in the room and a guy that a lot of (teammates) leaned on. So we're happy to see him stay."
Not that Phillips was certain it would be that way until he finally signed on the dotted line. As he watched longtime teammates such as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly get shipped away in deals that signalled the organization was turning the page toward a new future, he wondered whether he'd be around to help write another chapter or two.
Before heading to the rink for Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place, Phillips told Erin, his Ottawa-born wife, that "this might be my last game (with the Senators). I don't know."
"There were times I thought it was more likely that maybe I would be going somewhere instead of staying," added Phillips. "In saying that, I knew things could change in a minute as well. It could go either way at any time. I stayed patient with it and tried not to get too excited about hearing good news or too down about hearing something that you didn’t want to hear. I waited it out and things turned out the way I wanted."
"I know there are a lot of hockey people out there questioning my decision when all they see is hockey. But it’s a lifestyle, it’s family, it’s the community and your kids growing up in a community and (being) involved in stuff. But I don’t want to just lay it all on that. I love playing in Ottawa. We get treated unbelievable as hockey players by the community and the team as well. On the ice, you can see things turning around." - Chris Phillips
Phillips, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, also knew he was possibly passing up the chance to join a Stanley Cup contender for the stretch drive, but admitted "there's still time for me to do that in my career."
"Ray Bourque was in his 20th season when he made the move (from Boston to Colorado) to win the Cup," said the 32-year-old Phillips, who is in his 13th year with the Senators. "I don't feel like this is my retirement deal ... I don't feel like I'm in that position yet. I've been here for a number of years, but I still feel like I have a number left."
Phillips and his wife have also become community fixtures over the years, lending their time to such causes as the 24h of Tremblant and Candlelighters, to name a few. He admitted the pull of the city in which they're also raising three young children was a big factor in his desire to stay with the Senators.
"I know there are a lot of hockey people out there questioning my decision when all they see is hockey," said Phillips, a native of Calgary. "But it’s a lifestyle, it’s family, it’s the community and your kids growing up in a community and (being) involved in stuff. But I don’t want to just lay it all on that. I love playing in Ottawa.
"We get treated unbelievable as hockey players by the community and the team as well. On the ice, you can see things turning around. It was an unbelievable run when we went to the final a few years ago and there’s no other team I’d rather do that with than with these guys."
As he looks around the dressing room and sees some of Senators' stalwarts of the future already beginning to make an impact, Phillips — an ironman who's missed only one game over the last five seasons — believes the turnaround can happen sooner rather than later.
"I already see the confidence in the room that things are going in the right direction," he said. "It's upbeat. The confidence that's around this team right now and good feelings, you feed off that. You see the potential in the guys that we have here. Things can turn around in a hurry here."