Though Chris Phillips' offseason back surgery was a success, something went wrong during the rehab process.
"Chris has experienced a setback in his recovery from back surgery that will delay his return to the ice. While the back surgery earlier this summer has alleviated all of the issues he experienced last season, he suffered a cracked vertebra during his rehabilitation." - Bryan Murray. Ottawa Sun.
The 37-year-old will need at least another month to recover from his latest injury before he can step onto the ice again, forcing him to miss out on training camp and quite possibly the beginning of the regular season.
But what if he is absent even longer?
It was already hard enough to make a good argument in favour of the veteran defenseman last season, but with the advances the Senators blue line has made, it now may be impossible to support his presence in the roster.
The pieces haven't changed too much, but Ottawa's defensive situation has become much more beneficiary. Under performing third pairing player Eric Gryba has been shipped off to Edmonton and the AHL's best defenseman, Chris Wideman, is set to take his place. Further up in the lineup, a former consistent healthy scratch and now World Hockey Championship gold medalist, Patrick Wiercioch has seen his last days in the press box.
CP4 hasn't played since Feb, hasn't resumed hockey activities and will miss training camp. At 37, hard to bank on him improving your team.— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) September 8, 2015
And that's the other point.
Though the players around Phillips are improving, for a long time he's been doing the opposite.
You actually have to go back seven years to the 2008-09 season to find the last time Phillips had positive relative possession numbers. The Senators just simply haven't benefited from him being on the ice lately.
It all depends on when Phillips returns.
If he is physically ready to play only a few games into the season, it becomes a lot easier for Dave Cameron to warrant throwing the long-time Senator into the lineup. The team will still be in the process of settling into their current roster, and the prognosis for the defense corps won't be accurate enough to justify disapproving of Phillips' presence on the ice.
But what if it takes months of the regular season for him to complete the rehab and feel well enough to play?
If we're 25-plus games into the 2015-16 season and Phillips has yet to return, it all depends on how the bottom pairing is fairing. Though 25-years-old, Wideman, if he makes the team out of training camp, would still be a rookie in the NHL. It's also uncertain as to whether Jared Cowen or Mark Borowiecki can be relied upon to have bounce-back years and play quality shutdown minutes.
If Phillips comes back later in the season and the bottom three defensemen are effectively rotating through each and every game, then he may be looking on from the press box for the remainder of the year.
Regardless of the outcome, Phillips will finish the season - and his career, for that matter - as the longest serving Ottawa Senator in franchise history. In early February, he passed Daniel Alfredsson in games played, participating in the 1,179th of his career.
Now it's just a matter of how long he can stretch the lead.
How many games will Chris Phillips play in the 2015-16 season?