I think as Senators fans we tend to suffer from our nascent history as a franchise. Put simply, tonight we celebrate the legacy of a player, currently on the roster who was drafted in just the 4th year of the team’s modern existence.The reaction to this milestone has been clouded by talk of fans and potentially management’s desire to trade him away.
I would imagine Phillips standing in Ottawa is simialar to that of David Legwand’s in Nashville. A good soldier and solid player whom you can’t fault for being drafted so high and, hell, has accomplished a respectable career and earned, I stress the word earned, a spot on a roster for a very long time. I just don’t necessarily equate the respect for the person and their career with what’s best for the team and its future.
I suppose that’s where some of the perceived ambivalence toward this milestone comes from. Area man keeps job. The story of Chis Phillips has always been one where he has been overshadowed and with good reason. He simply doesn’t play the type of game that excites fans. It’s part of what makes building a successful hockey team so hard. It has to have a Chris Phillips to bolster the stars. That’s not to say he never had a hay day. He did for sure but even during his peak the spotlight on the blue line belonged to hard hitting fan favourite Anton Volchenkov. He whom I witnessed countless times skate to the bench doubled over in pain to thunderous applause after blocking another point blank shot. Was Volchenkov a better player than Phillips? I don’t know but the theatre definitely was and in the show business of professional sport that’s a huge factor in popularity and, yes, legacy. There’s a reason why Phillips been passed over 3 times for the captaincy and it’s not because he’s a bad player, leader, or person. He may be a strong voice in the room but in this day in age, the C tends to get slapped on the player who can lead on the ice, on the score sheet and further, lead kids with their parents in tow to the stadium to watch them play live.
Again, this is not an indictment of Philly’s body of work. Not even all that long ago, I used to argue that Phillips was the most underrated player on the team. That he had to be watched live, playing against the opposition’s top forwards [at the time] to be truly appreciated. It’s been long held that when Phillips is invisible it means he’s having a good night. Taking his expert care of the subtle defensive nuances that help win you games. You can’t expect that kind of billing to capture the imagination of sports fans. Regardless of his past, Father Time has caught up with no. 4 and unfortunately, he’s become quite visible on most nights. Are we wrong to be critical of a player who’s gone from backbone to one of the weaker links in an already pretty porous D corps? I don’t think so. Are we being completely fair? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure of that either. One thing I am confident about is that it doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like the guy or wish him anything other than success if we as fans would prefer to see him move on. He’s been a solid member of our team, a key component of past success and a tremendous member of the community for a long time now. The popularity of his business here is a reflection of that appreciation, I believe. If you want proof, try getting a table at Big Rig on a Friday night. It’s crazy to think a place located in an Ikea parking lot could be so popular. It wouldn’t be if people didn’t want to be at “Chris Phillips’ bar”. I think that’s cool. I’m proud that regardless of what happens in the near future that he will remain part of our city and its community beyond his playing career.
Outside the business side of hockey (dollars and winning) I think it’s clear, we’re all buddies. Inside of that world, however, no currently we aren’t.
To get back to what I was saying about suffering from our nascent history, the “glory days” that we associate Chris Phillips (and Chris Neil) with 1. Peaked going on 8 years ago and 2. Aren’t all that glorious to be quite frank.
It hurts for me to say it, but making the Stanley Cup Final is only a big deal to those of us who witnessed it. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t special. Does anyone care that Philadelphia or New Jersey recently lost the Stanley Cup? The Vancouver Canucks have been to the Cup Final three times in their 44 seasons as an NHL franchise. As an outsider, do I look at their recent run of strong seasons as glory days? Not at all, I see them as perhaps an even more frustrating version of the early-mid 2000s powerhouse Senators teams. Back to back Presidents’ Trophies, Hall of Fame calibre players who’ve come, gone or declined in ability and no Cup to show. I, to a mercifully lesser degree, know the feeling.
In 2011, we were promised a turning of the page, a new chapter in Sens history. Admittedly, the subsequent sell off that occurred to mark its beginning scared the crap out of me as a fan. Until then, I would have argued all day that you simply cannot spare players like Chris Kelly, or Mike Fisher, that they are too valuable. The truth, I learned, was that they were too valuable to give up when Ottawa was going deep in the playoffs year after year. When the team was no longer a contender, that’s exactly where Fisher and Kelly were sent to: Teams that were current contenders or at least poised to take that step.
Kelly now has a ring and Fisher has a real chance at one. That’s where I and I think many people now see Phillips and Neil as well. We’ve been promised change, we’ve had some, we’re seen the promise and now we’re thirsting for more of it. Frustrating as the growth can be at times, we are experiencing shades of what is to be and we want management to speed the transition up. To their credit, it’s a consequence of the strength of their partial rebuild.
The unavoidable subject I will now acknowledge is, of course, Daniel Alfredsson. I can speak only for myself but I think it’s safe to say that following Alfie’s departure [the season after finally making it out of the first round of the playoffs since 2007 no less!], much, if not all, sentimentality toward the old guard died when he left.
Sure, wounds were thankfully healed with no.11 in late 2014. All is forgiven between us but fresh off the trade request of Jason Spezza after one mere season of captaincy, I cannot blame a large swath of fans for simply being exhausted with the legacies of the old guard at this point. Especially when you consider the greatest player in franchise history had already jumped ship for 5.5 million dollars and five playoff games with a division rival.
Tonight, there’s no valid course of action when they commemorate Chris Phillips’ service and devotion to the team and the community other than a wholehearted standing ovation. If you’re going to be in attendance, I urge you to scream your voice hoarse. He deserves it. He’s earned it. I was at the ceremony for his 1000th game and found myself surprised at how emotional watching the spectacle was. Tonight will be no different.
I just cannot fault many of our fans desire to move closer toward the future by making moves that are currently in play. Nor do I necessarily equate that desire with distain toward a career as respected as Phillips.The desire for change has simply become larger than this one night, this one event. If the beloved, heart on sleeve Mike Fisher had played here all 916 games of his NHL career and the same deal offered for him in 2011 was in play today, I would want Bryan Murray to make it. If Phillips wants to exercise his right to stay, that’s his prerogative as is it fans’ urge to inch closer toward the future by moving him. What’s most important is that it changes nothing of his legacy in Ottawa.