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Spare Parts: The Old Guard

For all the excitement about the team's future, there seem to be players that don't fit into that future. This is the first in a five-part series looking at what to do with these spare parts.

Chris Neil watches as Chris Phillips honours the terms of their bet and kisses Brooks Laich's stick mid-game.
Chris Neil watches as Chris Phillips honours the terms of their bet and kisses Brooks Laich's stick mid-game.
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

The Ottawa Senators have some dynamic players. Erik Karlsson is the team's captain and their most electrifying skater. Bobby Ryan has really grown into a leadership role this year. Nobody's complaining about Kyle Turris or Clarke MacArthur in the top six. Guys like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau all look like they could be NHLers for a long time. Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci look primed to grow into solid players in the near future. Guys like Shane Prince, Matt Puempel and Chris Wideman are making a push for time with the big club.

Ottawa's future looks bright, there's no question. The problem is, this team also has a lot of players who don't fit with this forward-thinking model. You've got the Cup Run 2007TM leftovers of Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. Both have had long careers with this franchise, but both are quite ineffective in their roles today. There's Milan Michalek, who has two more years after this one at $4-million. There's David Legwand, who has been a healthy scratch after looking like a solid free agent acquisition in the summer. How many of you still remember that Zack Smith plays for this team, and will at some point return from injury and need a roster spot? This team has eight defencemen, and you have to think that at least one out of Mark Borowiecki, Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, or Jared Cowen will need to be off-loaded.This is the first article looking at these spare parts, wondering what to do with Phillips and Neil.

The old guard have really come to embrace the "old" part of that term. Chris Phillips looks overmatched and slow in a bottom-pairing role, and looked absolutely terrible as Karlsson's partner to start the year. Chris Neil fails to agitate and pester opposing stars (one game this year against Evgeni Malkin notwithstanding), and is a liability when he is on the ice. I am starting to lose patience with their #Neilership and #Leaderphil (I just made that one up). Rumours persist that they both have trade value, and as an emotionless robot, I say trade them. Neither is good at their roles anymore, so I say if you can can get a third-round pick for either or a second-round pick for both in a deep draft, do it.

At the same time, I doubt this will happen. After how Daniel Alfredsson left, the team has bent over backwards to satisfy the remaining historical players. And there's no question they hold some value. Phillips' experience must be invaluable to all those inexperienced guys on defence. Neil's community contributions are significant, including being an honourary co-chair (along with his wife Caitlin) of Roger's House ever since Mike Fisher left town.

With these guys, you have to respect their tenure with the organization. If a trade is made, you have to make sure they 100% want to go to a contender for a playoff push. (Their limited no-trade clauses also play a role.) Since both have a year left on their contracts, they couldn't just be rentals. Phillips couldn't spend two months in San Jose, finish his contract, retire, and come back to his family and his brewery. He'd have another year, making a trade this deadline that much more unlikely. This means that a deadline deal to a contender seems much more likely next year, which should lead to another painful 12 months of watching them try to keep up.

The last option is premature retirement. If Phillips plays half the games from here to the end of the season, I could see him retiring at the end. He'd immediately be invited into the organization as a defensive coach, kind of like what happened with Luke Richardson and now Jason Smith. Based on what you here about his mentorship, I'd guess he'd make an excellent coach. The only problem is that I can also see Phillips' pride getting in the way. If he thinks he can still play, I expect him to still try to play. And I really can't see Neil retiring. I have a hard time seeing him brought into the organization in any capacity other than in a nominal advisor role. His role doesn't really lend itself to being a skills coach. This is just a gut feeling though, because he could be a very good scout or fitness coach, and those would be hard to judge from his NHL career.

Best-case scenario: Phillips retires at the end of the year, and comes on as a defensive coach. Neil decides he wants to win a Cup, and gets traded to Chicago or Tampa Bay for a second-round pick.

Expected scenario: Both guys decide to play out their contracts. Phillips gets into half the games and Neil gets into a third of the games in 2015-16.