Chris Phillips is in the final season of a four-year deal paying him $3.5M a year, and he has a no-trade clause. He's almost 33 years old, and has played his entire career with Ottawa. He's an affordable, and still relatively young, shut down specialist, one who seems ripe for an affordable contract renewal that will take him to retirement.
Except that the Senators' one area of prospect depth also happens to be on the backend, with Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Patrick Weircoch, and David Rundblad ready to join Sergei Gonchar in the next couple of seasons. There are also many serviceable if unspectacular depth defensemen in Matt Carkner, Chris Campoli, David Hale, Eric Gryba, and even Brian Lee, who is about to go on a tear, I can feel it.
Phillips is in the midst of a horrible season: as of December 13th, he has 3 assists and is a minus 13 in 31 games, though this might be partly attributed to his long-time defensive partner Anton Volchenkov having departed in the offseason for the New Jersey Titanics. Phillips may also have been asked to play outside of his comfort zone as Clouston juggles lines in attempts to establish chemistry. But in all, his occasionally solid shut-down skills have been offset by brain farts and giveaways. He's looked slow, and out of synch with his team.
In all honesty, the guy obviously loves the city and has roots here. Since being selected first overall by Ottawa in 1996, Phillips is one of few players--along with Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher--to have played his entire career in Ottawa. His charity work also shouldn't be overlooked, nor should the legitimacy and credibility a franchise earns when they hang the number of a career player in their rafters. Phillips means a lot to this community, and that's not the sort of thing you give away for a draft pick. Or do you? Are winners not those who can assess their team with unsentimental logic?
It may depend on the market for Phillips at the trade deadline. Keep in mind that while Phillips is a 1-2 pairing defenseman on Ottawa, a contending team with depth might truly appreciate him in that 3-4 role. A team like Washington, who had trouble outmuscling Montreal (of all teams) last year, might want a veteran shutdown player, and be willing to pay a premium for him in a year when they clearly want to go all the way. (Though their recent trade for Hannan supposedly filled that role.) And Phillips' salary is respectable, and with only a quarter of the season remaining will only need to be paid out $850,000.
The market at last year's deadline for anyone less than an elite player seemed to be a 2nd rounder. Andy Sutton may not be a comparable to Phillips, but could represent where the bidding begins, and so you may imagine a contending team might be willing to give up a late first rounder for him.
Is there a way that Ottawa can have their cake and eat it too? Would trading Phillips necessarily close the door on his having a future in Ottawa, whether it be re-signing here or accepting a job in the front office? And if he was re-signed, what would be a fair deal? Phillips is by no means nearing the end of this career.
The ideal for a season that is increasingly looking lost may be to trade him at the deadline for at least a second rounder and then re-sign him in the offseason to a deal that takes him to, say, 38 and pays him a cap hit of $2M a year (Say, $3.5M, $2.5M, $1M and $1M ). As a 3-4 pairing D, asked to play less minutes, Phillips will continue to provide a veteran presence and mentor our young shutdown prospect, Jared Cowen.
Alternatively, if Phillips is willing to re-sign in Ottawa for fewer years, and there isn't a risk of his signing elsewhere, the team should consider paying him a higher cap hit--say, $3M a year for two years--if it means being able to trade him again in the future for yet another prospect or pick.
What do you think? Is Phillips in a prime position for a trade, or does this team not mess with his solid history with the club? If Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, and now Anton Volchenkov have all been allowed to walk for nothing in return, should this team not try and get something for one of their homegrown defensive prospects?
Varada is a regular contributor at The Cory Clouston Fashion Review