Phillips grades an 'A'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

School is barely in session, but Chris Phillips might already be in line for an 'A.'

While coach Bryan Murray won't make the decision until the end of training camp, Phillips might be a sensible choice to wear an assistant captain's letter now that Zdeno Chara is suiting up for the Boston Bruins.

Though it might sound hard to believe, Phillips, 28, is heading into his 10th season with the Senators and Murray is leaning toward putting an 'A' on his chest this year.

"I've really been thinking about that a lot," said Murray yesterday following the club's scrimmage at Scotiabank Place. "I haven't talked to anybody about it at this point, but very definitely (Phillips) is going to be one of the guys we consider very strongly."

While it's true centre Mike Fisher might also be worthy of consideration, it might be Phillips' turn because of the loss of the presence of the 6-foot-9 Chara on the blueline.

Phillips, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NHL entry draft, isn't afraid to say what he thinks behind closed doors when the going gets tough for the Senators. Putting him into the leadership group with captain Daniel Alfredsson and defenceman Wade Redden would just confirm a role Phillips has already shown he can handle.

'BETTER JOB'

"It shouldn't matter who is here and who is not here," said Phillips. "I'm going to take that upon myself to do a better job. Whether (the 'A') is a difference or not, I don't know. We have to have people (who stand up in the room) and I don't know whether that's me or other guys. All that matters is that it gets done."

Life on the ice is going to change for Phillips, too. For four years, he played alongside Chara while the Big Z received all the ice time, the accolades and the nomination for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman.

Quietly, Phillips has gone about his work and gotten the job done. He had only one goal last season and took a lot of ribbing for it, but has established himself as the top defensive defenceman on the team and, arguably, one of the best in the league at his job. He takes pride in what he does.

That's why Murray isn't going to be afraid to use him more prominently this year. Phillips had better spend a lot of time studying the likes of Toronto's Mats Sundin, New York's Jaromir Jagr and Philly's Peter Forsberg, because you get the sense he's going to be seeing a lot of them on the ice this season with new partner Andrej Meszaros.

"Phillips played a big role with Chara, but there's no question that Philly is going to have to be a big matchup guy for us," said Murray.

Murray said Phillips probably didn't get enough notice because he was always in Chara's shadow.

SOLID BLUELINER

"I don't think he got enough credit," said Murray. "I don't know what he was like in the early years, but he's a 10-year player now. He's a good player. He's a real solid, decent defenceman. He's a very good hockey player and a real solid person. Those are the types of things that are invaluable to your team and to your leadership core."

The biggest adjustment for Phillips could be playing with a new partner in Meszaros.

"My Slovak is pretty good," joked Phillips. "That's a big change. No matter who you are changing to. (Chara) was a tremendous player and did a lot on the ice. It's tough to replace a guy like that. The biggest thing is you have time to get used to playing with another guy. It's not like you forget how to play the game because you have to play with someone else. It's more about little adjustments."

"We'll see how we feed off each other. Before, I might have stayed back a bit more because (Chara) was jumping up into the play. Maybe that's an area that will change ... maybe I can jump up into the play and try to double my goal output this year."


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