On Tuesday, the Ottawa Senators will retire number four, worn by long-time Senator Chris Phillips. He will join Frank Finnigan‘s number eight (he played for Ottawa from 1923-1937) and Daniel Alfredsson‘s number 11 in the rafters. Phillips played his entire 16-year career in Ottawa and is the franchise’s leader in games played with 1179 and is one of the best players in Senators’ history. His shutdown game helped Ottawa have some of their best ever seasons.
Chris Phillips First Seasons
The Ottawa Senators picked Chris Phillips first overall in the 1996 NHL entry draft. He played one more year in junior before joining the Senators for the 1997-98 season.
Phillips started his career just as Ottawa was rising as a team. In the 1998 playoffs, the Senators won their first playoff series in their modern history. By the 2000-01 season, Phillips was playing 20 minutes a night and soon formed a shutdown pairing with Zdeno Chara. Phillips stayed in a shutdown role for the rest of his career. Ken Warren, an Ottawa based reporter for Postmedia, interviewed Phillips’s long-time teammate Chris Neil for an article leading up to Phillips’s jersey retirement.
“It’s (Phillips) longevity and what he did for the organization against top lines,” Neil continues. “He became one of the NHL’s best shutdown guys, always playing against (Alex) Ovechkin and the other superstars.”
The brightest part of Phillips’s young career was his performance against the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals. In game five, with the Senators facing elimination, rookie Jason Spezza tipped Phillips shot for the third goal of the game to lift the Senators to a 3-1 win. In game six, Phillips scored a rebound goal in overtime to force a game seven. However, Ottawa lost that game 3-2.
Phillips was also a part of two of Ottawa’s best regular-season teams. In the 2002-03 season, Ottawa finished with 113 points and won the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team. In the 2005-06 season, Ottawa got 113 points again for the second-best record in the league.
After Chara Left
Phillips was reliable to play 20 minutes a night and score around 20 points a season. However, Chara left Ottawa as a free agent in 2006, and Phillips was put into a more significant role as Ottawa’s second-best defenceman next to Wade Redden. The 2006-07 season was the best of his career.
Phillips’s playing time was boosted to 22 minutes a night, his 26 points were a single-season career-high, and he finished the season as a plus 36. He won seven votes for the Norris Trophy that season. He also formed another great shutdown pairing with Anton Volchenkov.
I remember him playing with (Anton Volchenkov) and shutting down guys, sometimes playing the full two minutes of an (opposition) power play. His job was to defend and play tough,” said Wade Redden in Ken Warren’s article.
In the playoffs, he helped shut down star players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise of the Devils, and Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek and Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres. Ottawa made it to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.
However, Ottawa lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. To make matters worse, Phillips scored on his own net in game five. He accidentally ran into Ray Emery as Emery was skating back into his net. The goal gave Anaheim a 3-1 lead, and they won the game 6-2.
The video of Phillips’s own goal starts at 1:47.
The Senators streak of four 100 straight point seasons came to an end in 2007-08 and their eleven-year playoff streak ended in 2009. Phillips was steady during those years. Playing 22 minutes a night and scoring around 20 points a season.
His second-best year was in the 2009-2010 season. Phillips played an average of 22:21 a night, which was 30 seconds behind Filip Kuba for the team lead. He tied his career-high in goals with eight and was also second on the team with 142 blocked shots. In the playoffs, Phillips played 24 minutes a night, but Ottawa lost to Pittsburgh in the first round. He received one Norris Trophy vote that year.
The Loyal Senator
The 2010-11 season was terrible for the Senators. They finished with 74 points and were last in the Northeast Division. Ottawa traded veterans like Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Alex Kovalev, Chris Campoli and Jarkko Ruutu at the trade deadline. With his contract expiring, Phillips was an obvious choice to be traded. However, Phillips didn’t want to go. Matt Larkin of The Hockey News dug up a quote from Phillips on why we wanted to stay.
“I do (want to be part of the rebuild), and I know people will call me crazy for saying that,” he told the Ottawa Sun at the time. “I think you need some veteran guys that have been around to help and guide young guys coming in.”
On trade deadline day, Chris Phillips signed a three-year 9.25 million dollar deal to stay as a Senator.
Phillips found himself in the same situation three years later in 2014. The Senators were not making the playoffs, and Phillips was an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. However, he wanted to stay a Senator. He signed a two-year 5 million dollar deal three days after trade deadline day.
Phillips had some great moments after staying. He scored two goals against the Nashville Predators in his 1,000th game in 2012. On Feb. 5, 2015, he played his 1,179 game for Ottawa, passing Daniel Alfredsson as the team’s all-time leader in games played. That was also the last game of his career. Injuries sidelined him for a year and a half until he retired on May 26, 2016.
Chris Phillips leaves a legacy as the only star player to play his entire career as a Senator. Senators fans have suffered a lot of heartbreak with losing players like Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Marian Hossa, Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Alexei Yashin during their history. Phillips had a much better chance to win a Stanley Cup by being traded in either 2011 or 2014 instead of staying with the losing Senators. But he wanted to stay anyway.
Loyalty alone is not the reason his jersey is going to the rafters. For nearly 20 years, Phillips was one of Ottawa’s best and most reliable defencemen. He was never a high point-getter, but he made his impact by being a shutdown defenceman. He played at least 19 minutes a game on average for 14 out of his sixteen seasons. Showing how much the coaching staff wanted him on the ice.
Phillips also leaves an off-ice legacy. Ottawa Postmedia reporter Bruce Garrioch tweeted when Phillips retired that Phillips and his family supported 22 charities during his career.
Phillips and his family have assisted 22 charitable organizations in the community. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) May 26, 2016
“Guys like (Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden), they led the way,” said Chris Neil in Ken Warren’s article. “If you were out for dinner and they saw a sick kid, they would take the time to go over and say hi and later pay a visit.”
The combination of loyalty, stardom, reliability and philanthropy is what led to Chris Phillips getting his jersey retired. He isn’t a Hockey Hall of Fame calibre player, but he will go down as one of the greatest players in Senators’ history.