When training camp rolls around this September it will be the first time in 17 years the Ottawa Senators will do so without Chris Phillips under contract.
The longest tenured Senator in franchise history officially retired from professional hockey May 26, one year removed from a season in which he failed to appear in a single game because of an ailing back. Having tried – and subsequently failed – to play through said injury, the writing was on the wall for the 38-year-old.
A pending UFA this summer, Phillips – wanting to be there, health wise, for his kids – opted to call it a career rather than put his body in jeopardy by attempting a comeback. Although he leaves without achieving his expressed desire to mentor the new generation of Sens defencemen, Phillips steps away with little else to achieve in his career (save for winning a Stanley Cup).
Playing with the pressure of being the first overall pick in the 1996 Entry Draft, Phillips had an exceptional career that, as mentioned, spanned 17 seasons from 1997/98 to 2014/15. Longevity and consistency were the hallmarks of Phillips’s career and were qualities that enabled him to retire as one of the greatest Senators in franchise history.
He owns the franchise record for games played with 1,179 – his best stretch coming between 2006/07 and 2012/13 when he missed a total of three games – and sits seventh in assists (217) and sixth in plus-minus (plus-67). His consistency and longevity were fed in no small part by his workload: He averaged at least 19:00 per game in 14 of his 17 seasons.
Even compared to his fellow draftees from 1996 Phillips stands out for his career achievements. Only three other players – Zdeno Chara, Matt Cullen and Dainius Zubrus – have played more games in their careers than Phillips has, and only five players from that draft class remain active, with Michal Rozsival and Willie Mitchell joining the aforementioned three names.
Never one to flash brilliance in the offensive zone, it should come as no surprise that Phillips’s career excellence goes unnoticed to many fans outside Ottawa. But he was about as close to the mold of a perfect defensive defenceman as a general manager could hope for – big, strong, physical – and it’s what made him a formidable opponent on Ottawa’s blue line.
But despite lacking the offensive acumen of other defencemen from his era – Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Leetch, Scott Niedermayer, etc. – those times he did score were pure theatre. Two of his greatest moments include a two-goal performance in his 1,000th game and the time he scored the OT winner in Game 6 against the New Jersey Devils in 2003 (in New Jersey) to force a Game 7.
Although his resume lacks any major hardware – he never won a Norris, wasn’t rookie of the year and lost to the Anaheim Ducks in his only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals – Phillips’s career wasn’t short on success.
But perhaps most impressive – and admirable, given the constraints imposed by the salary cap when negotiating contracts – is the fact Phillips did it all in the city that became his second home: Ottawa.