A call for decency when discussing Chris Phillips' future

"I do (want to be part of the rebuild) and I know people will call me crazy for saying that," said Phillips, drafted No. 1 overall in 1996 by the Senators. "I think you need some veteran guys that have been around to help and guide young guys coming in.

"I’m OK and would take on that responsibility, along with a couple of guys who have been here for a long time. It’s not the easiest thing to do and there could be some growing pains with that, but that is a possibility and if that ends up happening, then you make the most of any situation."

-Chris Phillips, as quoted in the Ottawa Sun, about the possibility of being traded by the Ottawa Senators

There aren't many players who bleed the red and black of the Ottawa Senators more than Chris Phillips. A career Senators just 90 games away from becoming the second player to skate in 1,000 career games for the team, and in all of those games, no one in their right mind would complain about the effort level he's put forward (even if some people are complaining about his results this season).

And yet, with rumours circulating that Phillips is planning on excercising the no-trade clause given to him out of respect for the service he's done for the organization, some in the community have turned on him like rabid dogs. That's not just disrespectful; it's downright Leafs fan-like.

Sens fans don't have to look too far back to see a player who truly screwed over the franchise by excercising a limited movement clause; few of us forget the Dany Heatley debacle. To turn around and condemn a player who'd like to use his no-trade clause because he wants the opportunity to help the franchise turn itself around, well, it seems like a pretty indecent way to treat someone who has given his entire adult life to the organization. He's been rewarded handsomely for it, absolutely, but that doesn't change the fact that this team has benefited greatly from his presence.

A common refrain is the rather ignorant idea that if Phillips really wanted to help the team's rebuild, he should accept the trade to a contender and then re-sign with the Senators in the off-season. Although that would likely be the best situation for the franchise, I say "ignorant" not to be insulting, but I can certainly understand why Phillips might not want to try it. I'd chalk it up to three reasons:

  1. Certainty. Bryan Murray can't tell Phillips he'll re-sign him in the off-season; it borders on tampering, and the league wouldn't stand for that. But even if Murray did make that promise, it seems highly likely that Murray won't be GM on July 1; who's to say that the new GM will honour a promise made by the past one?
  2. Negotiations. Phillips, for professional and family reasons, wants to stay in Ottawa. If he chooses to excercise his no-trade clause, he'll have the rest of this season and the off-season to negotiate with team management about a contract extension. If he accepts a trade, that means he'd have to wait until he officially becomes a free agent on July 1 to begin negotiations with Ottawa. That's a long way off.
  3. Pride. There's a reason you don't often see players traded by one team only to re-sign there in the off-season: Few players like being traded. It's not a nice feeling, especially for a player like Phillips who has a young family who all live in Ottawa and wouldn't likely follow him to his destination team.

Phillips also has personal reasons for wanting to stay. His family is obviously one of them, as is the deep roots he and his wife have set in this community. And given the news of his father's health, it's easy to see why he might want to avoid a massive life upheaval for a month or two of playoff hockey.

Is Chris Phillips having an off year? Absolutely. He's having a downright terrible season. But that doesn't mean he's over the hill; he's still only 32 years old, and if he's given a bit of support so he can fall into a second-pairing rotation, instead of being asked to be a team's go-to guy, you've got to think he'd be able to simplify his game and continue on as a serviceable shutdown defender. That's where he's had his success so far, so you've got to think that's what would make him most successful moving forward. This isn't a Wade Redden situation; With the new rules in the post-lockout NHL, Redden's defence partner wasn't able to slow down oncoming forecheckers to give him the time he needed to make plays, so his shortcomings were exposed. Phillips has never been fast, but he's never relied on his speed to play defence; instead, he uses his size, positioning, and a bit of wisdom to make sure he's in the right place. The problem with this season and last is that he's been charged with quarterbacking the entire team, trying to guide inferior teammates to proper coverage while keeping track of his own. It's safe to conclude now that he is being asked to do too much.

Just about everything you read these days regarding Chris Phillips and a trade is speculation, at this point. We don't even know for sure if he's been asked to waive his NTC, let alone whether or not he's agreed or refused to waive it. So condemning him for not waving a no-trade clause, at this point, seems ridiculous.

When Phillips signed his contract extension a few years ago, the Senators gave him a no-trade clause. It reflected his value to the organization, his respect within the organization, and the work he's done for the organization. Let's respect his wishes, whatever they may be, because at this point, he's earned it.

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