Chris Phillips announced his retirement yesterday. He retires with the most games played in Ottawa Senators history, 1179. In honour of Big Rig/Clutch Chris/Big Game Chris hanging them up, here are five thoughts about the legend.
1. OT winner
If most of us were asked to pick Phillips' greatest moment, there's only one we'd pick: the OT winner against the Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a heartbreaking Game 7 that means most Sens fans still remember Jeff Friesen. Still, that goal will live on as one of the best moments in franchise history:
2. 1000th career game
In Phillips' 1000th career game, he somehow manged to score two goals against the Predators. Keep in mind that he only scored three other goals that entire season. What made it even better was that his second came on the powerplay, even though Phillips hadn't received PP time in a decade, simply because it was his 1000th game. Even more amazing was that it was Mike Fisher's first game back in Ottawa with the Preds, and Phillips completely stole his thunder. I was at this game, and it's probably the most memorable Sens game I've been able to attend in person (Mika Zibanejad's natural hat trick in Calgary this year notwithstanding).
3. Stalwart defender
It's easy to get caught up in the Chris Phillips of the last few seasons: the guy who held on too long, who couldn't keep up, who looked serviceable in about 10% of the games he played. The thing is, he was the second- or third-best defenceman on this team for a long time. He generally played second fiddle to guys like Anton Volchenkov, Zdeno Chara, and Wade Redden, but he was a key component in arguably the best Sens squads of all-time: the 2002-03 team that made the conference finals, and the 2006-07 team that lost in the Cup finals. From 2006-2013, he missed three games in total. He was never the flashiest, never the showboatiest, never McGuire's Monster, but he was a dependable defenceman for a long time.
4. Community work
As big as Phillips was for so long, he's probably been even more important in contributing off the ice. I can't list all the ways he's been involved in the community because there have been so many, but a few highlights: Candlelighters Honourary Chair (along with his wife Erin), organizing player visits to CHEO, We Day (several years in a row), the Telus Ride for Dad, and countless hours just spent with fans. Even now, as he was gearing up for his retirement, he's been setting up fundraisers for his hometown of Fort McMurray. It's why I'm thankful he's being kept on in an official role with the franchise, so he can continue to be such a beacon in the city.
5. Jersey retirement
Interesting fact: I was actually going to write a whole article about retiring Phillips' jersey in accordance with this wonderful piece by Luke Peristy. But now with his retirement, I decided I'd work it into these five thoughts.
I'm very in favour of retiring his jersey. He's the first player to play his entire NHL career with the Sens and retire a Senator. He played 1179 freakin' games. He was part of all of the best Sens teams in history. His involvement with the franchise and the community has been unrivalled. As a team with very little history, I think it would be the right thing to retire the jersey of its first beginning-to-end player. Not to mention that Phillips was actually a key Senator for a long time, which is why I wouldn't quite make the same arguments for Chris Neil. Although loved, Neil was never a top-minute player for the Sens.
Now some teams have introduced an in-between thing, like the Flames' Forever a Flame ceremony. Personally, I hate these. It's a way of saying "You were important to us, but not actually that important." Want someone to forever be a part of your team? Retire their jersey! Chris Phillips deserves more than a half-hearted effort at making him feel appreciated when he retires. As a guy who likely would've been the captain if Daniel Alfredsson had ever retired or been traded, he was clearly important.
The Tif had a great comment a couple years ago about a statue of Phillips at CTC with his hand up for a high-five, the way he did for all the Sens players after hundreds of games. I don't think the team could make a statue of only Phillips - Alfie might head to Detroit again - but I think it's a great idea. It's easy to rag on Big Rig because of the end to his career, but he does have a legacy in Ottawa. He never got a chance for a real farewell game. Let's retire his jersey, give him a night, and celebrate the man who was never the centre of attention.