1179: Chris Phillips and Legacies
A reflection on Chris Phillips and the sense of ambivalence pervading the Senators fan base as he breaks Daniel Alfredsson's franchise record for games played.
This is the way it ends.
When the Senators face the Washington Capitals tonight, Chris Phillips will play his 1179th game as an Ottawa Senator, surpassing Daniel Alfredsson's mark with the team and establishing a new franchise record. Baring a trade to a future Cup winner, this is likely the last significant achievement of Phillips' career and yet there's an ambivalence about the achievement that has pervaded the season.
It was supposed to happen earlier. Given how much Phillips played under Paul MacLean to start the season, it's surprising it took until February for Phillips to set this record. But frequent healthy scratches under new coach Dave Cameron have stalled his march to game 1179 and taken a bit of lustre off the achievement.
As I try and understand the general ambivalence towards Phillips and his record achievement, another number sticks in my head:
That's the number of games Daniel Alfredsson played in his entire NHL career. That's the number of games Alfredsson played included his Detroit totals. That's the number of games Daniel Alfredsson could have played as a Sen if he had played those final 68 regular season games in Ottawa.
And that's why 1179 stings a little.
If July 5, 2013 never happened, Phillips wouldn't be closing in on Alfie's mark. If Phillips played all 82 games this season, he'd still be more than 20 games short of the 1246 mark. We are ambivalent because it's not happening the way we want it to. We are ambivalent because Phillips isn't the games leader we want to remember. We are ambivalent because when Phillips takes to the ice tonight for the 1179th time with a Senators jersey on, he be revising the franchise history we are still clinging to.
We want it to be Daniel Alfredsson.
We want the hardest working, most dedicated, most games played Senator to be Alfie. Too often things don't work out the way we want in sports. There are few happy endings and much of the reality of fandom is celebratory the stories you have, such as they are. It's not enough that Alfredsson owns most of the significant team records, we want him to have this one too. The thing is, without this record, Alfredsson still defines this team. Never was that more apparent than two months ago when he returned to heal hearts and retire wearing his true colours. Phillips' record doesn't change that.
Phillips rarely stands alone in Ottawa. In the early years he was talked about as a top draft pick. There were defensemen named Redden and Chara who always came first. Phillips' greatest moments as a player were defined through partnership; his shutdown pairing with Anton Volchenkov often held up as his best work. Never the captain, always the alternate, he's now linked with his fellow letter-wearer Chris Neil as the last remaining members of the old guard, the glory years, and more harshly as the aging veterans. But rarely have his achievements been considered in isolation. When he is subject to such singular focus, it's not been positive.
But all of that can be forgotten for one night when Phillips, and Phillips alone, can be remembered for his playing achievements, longevity and loyalty. How his future deserves to be handled is subject to much debate these days, but this, this moment, he deserves. He deserves to be thanked for his service to this organization. He deserves to be appreciated for one night.
1179 is just a number. But it's meaning? Its meaning is derived from two simple words: Chris Phillips.