Chris Phillips has watched fellow blueliners leave Ottawa, one by one.
But the career Senator has no intention of following them out when his contract expires after this season.
First, it was Zdeno Chara to the Bruins in 2006. Then, Wade Redden signed with the Rangers in 2008. This summer, it was partner Anton Volchenkov, who left for greener pastures with the Devils.
Through it all, the dependable Phillips has always been the one to stay behind and keep up the hard work. He can’t picture himself playing in another uniform, but next July, it could be his turn at unrestricted free agency.
That’s why talks are already under way to ensure the 32-year-old — who will make $3.5 million this season — doesn’t test the market.
“It’s definitely tough to imagine having to putting on another jersey,” said Phillips, who was on the ice at the Bell Sensplex Wednesday with youngsters participating in the club’s summer hockey camp.
“If I’m forced to do that, then that’s going to be the case ... If I can make (staying in Ottawa) happen, then that would be my first choice.”
Phillips, the top pick in the 1996 draft, has established himself as one of the best defensive blueliners in the league during his 12 seasons with the Senators.
He admitted that watching some close friends walk away through the years hasn’t been easy.
“It’s definitely hard,” said Phillips. “You grow with these guys on and off the ice. But you also enter it knowing that it’s usually a matter of time (before they leave). Some guys, not long. Other guys, you play with a long time.
“Since I’ve started, I’ve only played with one guy (throughout, captain Daniel Alfredsson). Everybody else has moved on and different guys have come in.”
Phillips wasn’t shocked to see Volchenkov leave, but it was a blow.
“It’s tough to lose Volchie for our team and personally because I played with him for a long time, but that’s the nature of the game,” said Phillips. “It’s going to happen with most guys. You move on.”
Phillips isn’t sure how his role will change with Volchenkov’s departure. The arrival of veteran Sergei Gonchar from the Penguins means a shift in the way the defence plays next season. The club wants offence.
“He brings a lot of elements to our team with the offence and the experience winning Cups,” said Phillips.
That doesn’t mean Phillips will suddenly start taking chances to rush the puck.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said Phillips. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a little bit more of ‘roll the lines.’ I have to focus (on the shutdown) part of the game. That’s who I am: I have to be really reliable defensively.
“Whether that’s shutting a guy down, penalty killing or holding onto leads at the end of the game. If you can chip in offensively or have those opportunities, that’s a bonus. (But) I have to make the focus of my game primarily defensively-minded.”