With the trade deadline coming up, we're taking a look at all of the Sens players who will be free agents in the summer. This week, we take a look at five forwards.
With Chris Phillips likely out for the entire season, Chris Neil is the team's longest-serving player. He first suited up for the Ottawa Senators in 2001-02, and has played a role in 14 consecutive seasons. The next-closest are Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek, who are each in their seventh season with the Sens. That's quite the legacy for Neiler.
Last season, there were rumours that he could have been traded at the deadline. The team was willing to ship him to a contender if he so chose. Then he broke his thumb and suddenly lost his appeal. This season, there's a possibility that teams could still want him for the same reason. As a veteran player, he could provide leadership and a willingness to fight in a fourth-line role. There's no question that he brings a lot of effort, and is a big hit with fans and in the community. Many teams see this as the kind of deadline piece that can be acquired for cheap and can encourage a deep playoff run. I'd imagine a team like the Bruins would appreciate getting him because of their affinity for ex-Senators, or the Kings because they seem to value the impact of gritty leadership.
There are two issues with a trade taking place. One is that Neil has a limited no-trade clause, meaning he can pick 15 teams he would not accept a trade to. This forces Ottawa's hand a bit. The other problem is that Ottawa has been very hesitant to move its legacy players ever since Daniel Alfredsson left town. Neil is very popular with fans and trading him could be seen as a dangerous business choice.
In my ideal world, Neil would retire at the end of the year and become a strength and conditioning coach with the team or some kind of Sens community ambassador. He's been around a long time and I'd hate to see the Sens damage the relationship with him. That being said, I think there are young players who more deserve Neil's spot in the lineup. I also think his salary could be better invested in retaining players like Mike Hoffman and Patrick Wiercioch.
In the real world, I think we'll see Neil extended. He'll want one more contract before he retires, and I'm getting myself used to the fact that it'll probably be for two years. I expect it won't be for very much money, probably in the $1-1.5M range. I also expect that at 38 years old by the end of the contract, he won't be able to keep up much with the play, especially not with all the wear and tear he's imposed on his body. I'm locking it in now: two more years of Chris Neil.