Phillips staying at home?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Chris Phillips has earned an NHL reputation as a "stay-at-home" defenceman.

And the Senators blueliner is a step closer to staying right at home in Ottawa for a while longer.

While Phillips isn't ready just yet to declare he won't test the unrestricted free agent market this summer, sources say there has been "progress" in talks on a new contract.

Neither Phillips or his Calgary-based agent, Stacey McAlpine, could be reached for comment yesterday. But it's believed both sides are optimistic they're headed in the right direction, with talks on a three-year deal intensifying.

It's not known if the Senators have set tomorrow's 3 p.m. trade deadline to get Phillips signed, but it's believed GM John Muckler at least wants an indication he's going to be able to keep the 10-year NHL veteran in the fold. The Senators lost Zdeno Chara on the UFA market to the Boston Bruins last July and don't want to make a habit of that.

Negotiations have been slowly chugging along between McAlpine and Senators contract negotiator Kevin Billet. But nothing is done yet and it's difficult, at this point, to characterize the sides as being close because there's still plenty of work to be done.

Phillips currently earns $2.6 million US per season, but is going to be in for a hefty raise from the Senators, who also realize the value he'd have on the unrestricted market. The going rate for a defensive blueliner went up last summer when the Blues signed Jay McKee to a four-year, $16-million deal and Willie Mitchell received $14 million from the Vancouver Canucks.

BACK TO WORK: The Senators return to practice today before flying to Raleigh, N.C., this afternoon for the opener of a back-to-back series vs. the Hurricanes. Although coach Bryan Murray gave his players yesterday off, he wasn't happy with the way they blew a 4-1 lead against the Sabres on Saturday night, then had to come up big in the third for a 6-5 victory. The Senators can likely expect a lesson on playing in their own zone. "We were sloppy the whole game in our own end," said Murray. "That was the disappointing part for me. The chances we gave, and the opportunities they had, were in a lot of cases because of us. We've got to tighten that up." The Senators gave up 11 goals in two games against the Sabres and need to be better in that area with the playoffs around the corner. "We got lots to work on again," said Murray. "We'll try to get better in our own end. (Goaltender Ray Emery) looked like he hadn't played for a little bit and I think that came out (Saturday). He looked a little anxious. As he plays, he'll settle down more." Still, Murray was pleased with the two points. "We found a way. We weren't real sharp," said Murray. "I thought we went out in the first anticipating something would happen and we didn't play very well. When we did get ahead, they forechecked aggressively, but we did some things in our own end and we haven't been doing for months. We've got that to work on. We got six goals. I'm not sure we were that creative to get six goals, but the end result is we won the hockey game. As a coach in this league, they tell me that's what you have to worry about."

HARD FEELINGS: Ottawa RW Chris Neil was surprised to learn Buffalo owner Tom Golisano wrote a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Saturday complaining about Neil's hit on Sabres C Chris Drury. The NHL ruled it was a clean hit, but the Sabres owner also mentioned a hit by RW Peter Schaefer on C Tim Connolly in the playoffs last year "They're both clean hits. There were some hits (Saturday) that were a lot worse than my hit," said Neil. "You see it time and time again. It's part of the game. You don't want to see guys get hurt. If he doesn't get hurt, nothing happens. It's disappointing he got hurt. They miss him in their lineup."

READY TO RETURN: D Joe Corvo, who was scratched against the Sabres with food poisoning, will be back in the lineup tomorrow against Carolina. "I got a call at midnight (Friday) and he was okay by game time, but we thought we'd just wait and take him out for a game," said Murray.


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