Learning Lessons But Which One? Phillips Re-Signs in Ottawa


Chris Phillips has agreed to an extension with the only professional organization that he has known. Now that this “will he or won’t he” drama has unfolded, maybe we can all finally move on with our lives. (You know, before those fucking “Will Craig Anderson re-sign with the Senators?” stories inevitably start clogging up our news feeds. And you just know that they will!)

It’s late in the night, so I’ll quickly breakdown the deal…

1. The Terms

Three years and a net worth of $9.25 million that carries cap hit of $3.083 million per season. And according to Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper), that Sportsnet personality who those f—ers at TSN try to discredit all the time, Phillips has a NMC clause that protects him from waivers for all 3 yrs but leaves the Sens with a window to trade him with limited NTC in the 3rd year of deal.

Let’s get one thing straight here, regardless of how you feel about Chris Phillips’ current game, the amount of money that he will receive doesn’t matter. Whether you’re happy that he’s making less money than he currently is or you’re irked that a player who has regressed this much will still earn $3 million per annum, it does not matter. I can’t emphasize this point enough. If you’re pissed off,  just walk it off or take some deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Feel better? Good.

Now let it go and allow me to explain…

Taken into context with what ownership and management has said of late, Ottawa is looking towards the future and they acknowledgement that the organization will not spend frivolously on some marquee free agent names as the team rebuilds from within. Having dealt a number of expensive pieces already — with more likely to come tomorrow — signing Phillips to this figure does nothing to hamper the team’s budget over the course of its term. By the time that this team is ready to compete and be a playoff contender, Phillips’ contract will be done.

2. The 2011-2012 Season

Before Phillips had signed his extension, the Senators blueline picture was already looking pretty congested for next season. Bryan Murray and Pierre Dorion have already stated that they believe Jared Cowen and David Rundblad will be regulars on the back end and while tonight’s contract announcement likely means that one or two of the following players will be moved — Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Campoli, Brian Lee and Matt Carkner — all can be under team control next year.

Make no mistake, Murray is not done manoeuvring the players on the current roster. Bruce Garrioch has already indicated that Campoli and Kuba are going to be in play on Monday. The moves are not done. You do have to wonder though, will the organization actually be able to get a return for either of those two players that isn’t complete shit? I’m not convinced.

As I suggested in the grab bag piece earlier in the week, maybe it would have been more prudent to give Kuba an opportunity to improve his worth next season. With the way that the team looks to be shaped next season, I can’t foresee any scenario that has Ottawa in the playoffs next season. With his back surgery last summer and the broken leg that he suffered in training camp, he hasn’t really been afforded the opportunity to get in shape. Considering those circumstances and the low expectations for the team, wouldn’t it be more prudent to afford Kuba (a player who was on pace for a second consecutive 40 point season prior to getting hurt last year) the opportunity to get healthy and hopefully fetch something of value at next year’s trade deadline?

Looking at how the Fisher and Kelly trades have been spun by the media afterwards, I think it’s pretty interesting to note that both were described as tough but necessary hockey decisions. That neither Fisher or Kelly were the kind of players that you rebuild a team around. Yet, when it came to discussing Phillips’ future with the organization, there was this willingness on the part of the media to portray Phillips as a mentor figure whose leadership would be invaluable to the young defencemen who would be with the team next season. I have never been much of a sucker believer in these mystical powers of intangibles and their ability to make players around them better, but I am a firm believer that PR decisions sway personnel decisions.

For whatever happens on the ice next season, I think most will agree that it’s not going to be fucking pretty. This team is going to be hardpressed to compete for a playoff position with or without Phillips. And I know it’s an annoyance but Ottawa has that stigma of being a city that doesn’t support sports teams that don’t win. Horseshit or not, you don’t think the Senators organization didn’t believe that fans would pay to watch a non-playoff team in this city? With a regressing and aging team, look at the trades and signings that the team has made within the past three and a half seasons — refusing to cash in impending UFAs at the trade deadlines (Volchenkov, Kuba, Neil), preferring to trade draft picks for guys like Campoli/Cullen/Comrie/Sutton to rack up late-season wins and pretend we’re a viable playoff threat.

So why is this important?

When I was watching the game on Saturday night against the Flyers, my girlfriend – who I’d regard as a casual fan – asked me a question, “Who are these guys? I don’t recognize any of the names.

It was a fair question and one that made me pause and reflect upon. In a market like Ottawa, you need the casual hockey fans to buy tickets and part of that draw is a recognizable names. Even though Phillips isn’t an all-world talent, with 925 career games under his belt, barring an injury, Phillips will play his 1,000th game with the Senators next season. As depressing as it is, he’s one of the few recognizable names left on this team.

3. Beyond Next Season

Considering how poorly he has played this season, it’s safe to assume that given Phillips’ age and impending UFA status, this was probably the last time that the organization could have moved him for something of value. You don’t have to look too far back to remember that the organization was faced with a similar predicament when Filip Kuba was an impending UFA during the 2008-09 season. Instead of parlaying Kuba for a draft pick and a prospect, when the team was out of the playoff picture, they re-signed him to his current deal and since then, Kuba’s struggled to stay healthy and on the ice. It’s a lesson that I think that the organization should have learned from.

Given Phillips’ regression this season and his contract situation, I can’t honestly envision a situation in which he can contribute with his play beyond next season. And by the time the team is ready to play at a high level, Phillips will probably be playing at a Jason Smith-like level. As heralded as Phillips’ leadership traits are, it’s worth asking the question, at what point does a regression in play negate the value of his intangibles? Is it one season? Two seasons? Three more seasons?

I would love to know because I’m one of the fans in that camp who would have preferred to see Phillips net an asset that could help with this current rebuild movement beyond the expiration of his 3-year extension. Let’s face it, with or without Phillips, this team is going to be bad for the next few years. Before things get better, they probably have to get worse and as the 29th worst team in the League, how much worse can we get?

4. Conclusion

When examining the Phillips extension, it comes down to weighing what is in the best interests of the organization moving forward: Is the team better off rebuilding with the asset(s) that Phillips could have fetched? Or will the team benefit moving forward from his intangibles/leadership and his mentoring abilities?

Obviously the organization believed in the latter and that’s probably a reflection of one of three things:

  1. The market for Chris Phillips was overstated.
  2. Bryan Murray was asking for too much and refused to budge off of this price.
  3. Chris Phillips never intended on waiving his NTC.

If the price for Phillips was never going to be met or Phillips simply refused to waive his no-trade clause, maybe the signing is the best thing to happen here. Having lost Chara, Redden and Volchenkov for nothing, at least he’s a veteran body who may be able to help develop the wealth of young defencemen within the organization. Or not.

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