Phillips takes A-Train departure in stride

Defence partners Anton Volchenkov (left) and Chris Phillips during physicals before last season....

Defence partners Anton Volchenkov (left) and Chris Phillips during physicals before last season. Volchenkov has moved on, and so has Phillips' mindset. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency file photo)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:51 AM ET

First Zdeno Chara, now Anton Volchenkov. 

Chris Phillips has had two primary partners on the Senators’ blue line the past seven years and — while both liked Ottawa and said they wanted to stay — neither liked nor wanted enough to ignore the allure of a few more bucks. 

“It means,” Phillips said the day after Volchenkov, his “shutdown” mate, signed a six-year, $25.6-million, free-agent deal with the New Jersey Devils, “that I’ve got to train somebody new to play with me.”

Phillips had to play left wing when he joined the Senators as a 19-year-old because blue-line spots were taken by Igor Kravchuk, Wade Redden, Janne Laukkanen, Jason York, Lance Pitlick and Stan Neckar. Now 32, he has outlasted them all, and has also now said goodbye to 36 other guys he used to go to defence meetings with at Scotiabank Place since the 1997-98 season. 

If the above quote makes him sound indifferent about losing Volchenkov as a co-worker and a friend he sees every day, well, he’s not. Phillips is a good teammate who cares deeply about the other guys in the room. He’s also loyal to his employers, family and the community.

It’s why that, entering the last season of a contract that pays him $3.5 million a year, Phillips has no interest in testing the free-agent waters.

“My first option is definitely to get something done here and stay here,” he said.

Does that mean he’ll accept a “hometown discount?” Did he the last time he was headed for July 1 with an expiring contract before signing an extension just prior to the 2007 playoffs?

“I don’t know if I did or not,” said Phillips, who shrugs off talk of the “distractions”

in-season negotiations have on him and adds it would “certainly be nice to work on (a contract) and have something in place” before this time next year.

“If you sign for 3.5 and you could have got 3.75 or maybe even 4 on the open market, is that a discount? When you look at the bottom line, yeah, but when you look at the big picture, I don’t know if it is.

“There’s that value out there of having to pack up and move on, especially when you’ve got three kids in school, and minor hockey. At what point are you giving up a whole lot at the end of the day?

“If I’m happy and the team’s happy, then there’s really no sense even talking about it.”

Phillips sees the silver lining in the dark cloud that represents the loss of Volchenkov, a great shot-blocker and body-checker.

That’s suddenly having the extra cap money to throw at Sergei Gonchar.

“He was a big part of our team,” Phillips said of the A-Train. “He played a lot of minutes and was very valuable. But we brought in a guy that’s more valuable on the flip side of the ice.”

Phillips mentioned a couple of reasons to smile about the arrival of Gonchar.

“When you pick up a guy that, when you’re playing against a team you want to key on him, you’re obviously more excited that he’s in your lineup and not theirs,” Phillips said. “He plays a lot of minutes, and any time (the Pittsburgh Penguins) were on the scoresheet, he seemed to be a factor. Especially on the power play.

“To have a defenceman that can do that again, and not have one of our forwards there, I think he brings a lot and allows those skilled guys to play their position up front.”

Maybe even Phillips himself. Due the new contract, there’s a good chance his offensive numbers will be higher playing with either Gonchar or Erik Karlsson than Volchenkov.

“Being reliable in the defensive part still has to be the backbone to my game,” he said. “But if I’m playing with one of those two guys, a guy that’s more offensive, it could mean that I’m handling the puck and making plays more. 

“My role is in defensive situations to be a guy that they can put out there,” he added, before a chuckle.

“But I should maybe go and work on my stickhandling a little more, too.”


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