Neil follows his heart home

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The Senators scored a victory in the Battle of Ontario last night.

While Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was the first to call Todd Reynolds, the agent for Chris Neil, when the NHL's free agency period opened yesterday, the rugged winger turned down more money from archrival Toronto and the New York Rangers to stay in Ottawa.

Just when it looked like Neil was on the way out, he accepted a four-year, $8-million (all terms US) contract to remain with the only NHL franchise he has ever known. He left a four-year, $9.2-million offer from the Rangers and a three-year, $6.9-million deal from the Leafs on the table.

ALMOST A LEAF

Neil turned down a four-year, $6.8-million offer from the Senators last week, so it was worth the wait for the winger.

"I'm really relieved," said Neil, who had three goals and seven assists in 60 games last season. "I don't know how much testing the market meant to all of this. When I spoke to Bryan, we weren't really sure about my true value. He didn't know what I was worth and I didn't know either.

"When you hit the free-agent market, you're able to find out what you're worth. We were able to find that happy medium. I'm ecstatic that I'll be able to stay in Ottawa."

Neil wouldn't really have signed with the hated Leafs, would he?

"It was pretty close," he said. "They made a good offer. (But) my heart is in Ottawa."

With Neil signed, the Senators could either deal C Chris Kelly or D Jason Smith.

"I'm happy because Chris Neil wanted to be here. He had some options, but he's certainly a guy that fits well here," GM Bryan Murray said. "He's a strong, physical player for us. He can take care of the other team's tough guy and he can play a role for us. He's an important core guy on our team."

'GUT FEELING'

Once his destination was settled, Neil was able to relate just how close he came to leaving.

There were serious discussions with the Leafs. Neil also spoke to Rangers coach John Tortorella and thought New York would be a decent fit. The Sharks also showed interest. However, Reynolds made a final call to Murray.

"We heard from Ottawa around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and we just let them know where we were at with the offers," said Neil. "We made one last call to them and just told them, 'This is what it's worth for Chris to stay in Ottawa.' If they were able to do it, we thought that would be great. If not, I was probably going to be a New York Ranger.

"There was a lot of back and forth with a bunch of different teams. We looked at all the options through the course of the day. None of them felt right to me.

"It was just a gut feeling that this was right for me and my family. I just felt the right thing for me to do was to stay in Ottawa. I was able to find out where I stand and I felt good. This was always where I wanted to be."


Videos

Photos