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Silver Nuggets: Chris Phillips' future

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Chris Phillips is the longest-serving Ottawa Senator. His deal's up at the end of this season. What's in store for the Big Rig?

To Chris' credit, he's not concerned.
To Chris' credit, he's not concerned.
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

In the beginning, there was THE DRAFT. And it was good.

When the Ottawa Senators opted to draft Chris Phillips with the first overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, he was the consensus top pick. He was touted by Hockey Canada scouts as a defender who "controls games" with his well-rounded style of play.

Although Phillips hasn't had the dynamic presence many expect of a first-overall selection, he's still had an elite career in terms of stability and longevity--and he's only 35 years old, so there are likely a few more seasons left in him.

But Phillips is slowing down, and that process isn't likely to reverse as the years add up. His contract is up after this season, at which point he'll be 36 years old. He's averaging just 14:34 ES TOI/G this season, which places him fifth on the team in that measure. Although he's been getting by in a top-four role by necessity over the past two seasons, that's far from ideal; he's better suited to a mentoring role on the third pairing of the Senators' blue line with special-teams duties.

On that topic, Phillips remains a vital part of the Senators' respectable penalty-killing unit--a part of the game where his hard-earned experience and wisdom offset his declining footspeed--averaging a league-high 4:39 per game while down a man this season. He was 17 in the league in SH TOI/G last year (when Ottawa had the league's top penalty kill, although a lot of that credit is due to the goaltenders behind him) and 26 in 2011-12 (when Ottawa's PK was not very good, at 20th in the league). Marc Methot is Phillips' only experienced penalty-killing comrade; young players like Jared Cowen, Erik Gryba, and Mark Borowiecki seem like good future contributors in that regard, but none of those three have yet earned Paul MacLean's trust enough to take much of the PK load off Phillips' shoulders.

Add to that Phillips' value as a veteran and a leader in the locker room, not to mention the community. It's impossible to quantify those intangibles, but they're important nevertheless, and should not be dismissed as extraneous offerings; a competent core of veterans is vital to a team's success.

All this, of course, to get to one very important question: Should the Ottawa Senators re-sign Chris Phillips? If so, how much is reasonable for a player who has given so much to the organization and community, still has something left to give, and yet is without a doubt declining in capabilities--and sure to decline further as he gets older.

Potential comparables are out there, but they're difficult to find. One might be Derek Morris, who's from the same draft class as Phillips and claims more offensive potency but less defensively: Morris signed a four-year, $11M deal (AAV: $2.75M) heading into the 2010-11 season. François Beauchemin is a few years younger than Phillips, but plays a similar role, and he signed a three-year , $10.5M (AAV: $3.5M) deal before last season. Finally, Michael Rozsival is another draft-classmate of Phillips' with better offence and poorer defensive awareness: He signed a two-year deal worth $4.4M (AAV: $2.2M) this past summer.

It seems unlikely the Senators will be able to ink a deal as low as Rozsival's, but the $2.6-3-5M range seems like a safe bet for Phillips--depending, of course, on the term that's put on the deal.

What do you think? Does Phillips have a future with the Ottawa Senators? If so, how much of their limited budget can the team devote to him, and for how many years?

Senators headlines:

  • Were expectations of the Senators too high this year? I think mine probably were. [Citizen]
  • Although Ottawa's attendance is down, apparently the combination of fewer tickets giveaways and a better local broadcast package has led to increased revenues. [Sun]
  • Jared Cowen attributes some of his struggles to the challenge of getting back to form after surgery. Perhaps he shouldn't have missed training camp, then. Bottom line: He needs to be better, and thinks he can be. [Citizen]
  • A puck-possession team needs to have a competent breakout, and the Senators have struggled mightily in that regard for much of this season; to help improve, Paul MacLean channeled his inner bantam-house-league-coach and spent 41-43 minutes of Wednesday's practice on the breakout. [Citizen | Sun]
  • After practice, MacLean spent about 10 minutes chatting one-on-one with Mika Zibanejad. [Steve Lloyd]
  • Bobby Ryan had some nice things to say about the Senators. [Inquirer]
  • Local pop star Keshia Chanté is dating Ray Emery and called Robin Lehner an idiot on Twitter because Lehner was friendly with Emery in person but then said that Emery's attack on Braden Holtby was assault. Emery handled the nonsense with aplomb. [Sun | The 6th Sens | Citizen | Bonk's Mullet]
  • Could you imagine Oliver Ekman-Larsen and Erik Karlsson on a pairing together? Apparently it almost happened. [The 6th Sens]

Other headlines:

  • Nazem Kadri might get suspended for a ridiculous elbow to the head of Nicklas Backstrom and/or a check to the head of Mikael Granlund. I hope he does. Sadly, his on-ice reckoning will have to wait until next year since the Leafs and Wild won't meet again this season. [PPP]
  • An exceptionally detailed refutation of the rumour (likely more speculation) that the Max Pacioretty and Evander Kane might be swapped. [HEOTP]
  • Jonana raps about Steven Stamkos' injury. [Backhand Shelf]
  • The Sabres brought Pat Lafontaine and Ted Nolan back into the organization as part of their management shuffle this week. I'm happy for Nolan, always thought he deserved another opportunity. [Die By The Blade]