ATLANTA -- The Senators are a step closer to ensuring defenceman Chris Phillips doesn't make Philips Arena his new home.
That is, Philips Arena or any other NHL barn not located in a former Kanata cornfield.
Without revealing details, Phillips said yesterday that "talks are progressing" on a new long-term contract that would keep him in Ottawa and forego his chance at unrestricted free agency July 1.
The most recent negotiations between his agent, Stacey McAlpine, and Senators director of hockey administration Kevin Billet were Thursday. The two are expected to get together again soon.
Phillips said his side is using "comparables" such as Jay McKee, who signed with St. Louis for four years at an annual salary of $4 million (all terms US), and Willie Mitchell, who's making $3.5 million a season for four years with Vancouver.
Entering free agency, neither player had the year Phillips is having this season. And frankly, Mitchell has not had nearly the career as Ottawa's nine-year veteran.
But Phillips, who's earning $2.204 million this season, says he'd give the Senators a "hometown discount" to sign him.
Ryan Smyth refused to give a similar break to Edmonton, and hence wound up getting traded from his team of 12 years earlier this week.
If you're one of the regular, working-class citizens out there who wonder why he cried his way out of the Alberta capital when he could have just accepted a few hundred grand less from the Oilers and stayed, you share similar sentiments with a number of NHL players. One of his peers said Smyth's behavior was "embarrassing."
Phillips doesn't think so, but he figures there was more than met the eye in the Smyth situation.
"It's almost like there's something more there than a money issue," said Phillips. "That's a pretty unique situation. I think he was a fan of the Oilers before he ever played for the Oilers ... I don't know how many guys out there who cheered for the team he plays with his whole career."
Watching Smyth, did Phillips get an indication of how it might feel if he had to leave Ottawa, his adopted home since he was a first-overall pick more than a decade ago?
TOUGH TO LEAVE
"It depends on circumstances," he said. "But no question it would be hard to leave. I'm not going to compare myself to him, though. I'm not planning my (farewell) press conference just yet."
Good thing, because if it gets to that point, Bryan Murray, his assistant coaches and everyone else in the organization who recognizes Phillips' value will be the ones left crying.
STARTS AND STOPS: Okay, so maybe all of Georgia isn't exactly abuzz over the Thrashers' acquisition of Keith Tkachuk. Yesterday, on the morning of his home debut with his new club, Tkachuk received only a passing mention in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Thrashers story was on page 12 of a sports section that had a motorcross feature, a Falcons report and plenty of NCAA basketball on the front. There was no page 13 ... Nice to see one Thrashers fan fondly remembers Dany Heatley. There he is now, wearing Atlanta's home jersey with Heatley's name and number on the back. Wait, with orange tape and black magic marker, he has ''Hossa's Better'' over the nameplate and ''Hossa Rules, Dany Who?'' over the number. Oh well ... Since the big trade, Marian Hossa had 75 goals and 97 assists in 145 games before last night. Heatley had 88 goals and 97 assists in 146 games. "(Heatley) has become the good hockey player in the league. Not only the good scorer, but a real good hockey player," Murray told reporters. "That's a character trait, no question. Some guys are great with the puck and don't want to work hard, there's other guys who play tough ... with Dany, it's time, it's recognition of trying to be a good team member, a top team member, and he's had a willingness to do it. If you watch him in practice now vs. maybe a year ago, I think his practice habits are a lot better, and it's a carry over into the game."
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM: Back in the dressing room after his best warmup in weeks, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson saw a reporter sitting at his stall talking to Antoine Vermette. "What do you think Barry Bonds would have done if you sat there, in his spot? Seriously?" Alfredsson said, snickering ... Murray was asked yesterday if he's concerned that his goalie is "involved" as much as he was when Ray Emery fought two Sabres last week. "Well, I hate him being the toughest guy on our team," Murray said to laughter.