Are Chris Neil, Chris Phillips Days In An Ottawa Senators’ Jersey Over?


Chris Neil and Chris Phillips. Remember those guys? One is the Franchise leader in penalty minutes and the other recently played in game 1,079, becoming the Franchise leader in that category. Recently while watching a few Senators’ games, I try to picture the team with both of those guys in the lineup and most of time, I just can’t see it.  With the youth movement clearly taking over, the mind-blowing play of the Condra-Pageau-Lazar line and the steady play of Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch on the back-end, It may be difficult for these guys to find a spot in the line up next year.

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Let’s start with Chris Neil

Neil has been a staple on the 3rd and 4th line of this franchise since being called up to the parent club in 2001-2002. He plays a hard noise physical game that some may say is a bit dirty.  He’s a great leader on and off the ice and a vocal voice inside the locker room. If the team isn’t playing up to their potential in a certain game, Neil isn’t afraid to drop the mitts to try to get the team refocused. Unfortunately for Neil, his skating has never been fantastic and I don’t think its an overstatement to say he doesn’t necessarily have the hands of an elite scorer. Neil is a bottom 6 player, with the ability to spend some time on the PP, if needed in front of the net. But looking at the currently line up it’s hard to see where he fits in going forward.

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With the emergence and stellar play of Erik Condra, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Curtis Lazar, there is just no ability to breakup that line. They have been arguably the best 3rd line in hockey over the past month. Going into the 2015-16 season this is a line Dave Cameron will probably keep together as the chemistry between these three players is only going to improve with time. So the only place I can see Neil sliding in next year is the 4th line.

My guess is that the Senators will try to off load a guy like David Legwand and Colin Greening in the off-season so Neil could slide into Greening’s spot. But then you look at guys like Matt Puempel and Shane Prince who most likely will be fighting with Neil for those 4th line minutes going into next year’s training camp. If I’m the coaching staff, it’s an easy decision to make. The Ottawa Senators have established themselves as a North-South team that likes to score and Neil doesn’t necessarily do either of those very well.

Some of you might say “but we need an enforcer” and you’d be correct, but the way of the enforcer has gone astray. Teams are now playing guys who can not only be a physical presence on the ice, but can play 10 minutes a game and chip in on the score sheet too.  That’s where Zack Smith comes in. Although he’s only played one game since his return from wrist surgery, I still believe Smith can be that two-dimensional player. He may be looking at a career of playing on the 4th line, but he’s been known to drop the gloves and I still believe he’s got more offensive ability in him. I’d rather see the Senators put their hope in a 26-year-old Smith, then an aging 35-year-old Neil.

Chris Phillips

Where to begin when talking about Phillips. He has been a minute logger for the Senators since joining the club in the 1997-98 season.  Phillips is your typical stay at home defensemen who rarely takes risks in the offensive zone. During the prime of his career, he was still only producing about 20 points a season but his +/- was always near the top of the team. Recently we’ve seen a decline in his performance, and you could say he’s lost a step when it comes to his speed and skating ability.

Phillips skating has never been something to write home about, but it didn’t matter because his decision-making with the puck always made up for it. That hasn’t been the case in these past couple of seasons. There have been nights where I wonder if Chris even remembers what game he is playing when he’s out on the ice. You have to wonder if he’s just gotten to the point where his body just won’t allow him to do the things his mind wants it to do any longer.

Looking at our 3 Defensive pairings going into next year, it’s going to be really hard for Phillips to find a permanent spot and I’m not to sure he’ll be a fan of being a healthy scratch on a regular basis. We’re not even going to talk about the Erik Karlsson – Phillips experiment. The fans, coaching staff, Brian Murray and Eugene Melnyk know that didn’t work, won’t work and should never be an option again. Marc Methot has come back and solidified that number 1 pairing. (How good have they been since he returned? Right?).

We’re not even going to talk about the Erik Karlsson-Chris Phillips experiment.

So where then could Phillips find himself within the bottom 4 D next year? Again, I am not to sure there really is a spot for him. Sure

Jared Cowen

isn’t the player this team thought he would be, and yes

Eric Gryba

has taken a step back this year. but you cannot deny the raw potential of guys like Ceci and Wiercioch. I think going forward those two will be important pieces to this team’s defensive core. Both have excellent hockey IQ, and I think Ceci is going to be a star in this league in the very near future.

So now we’re looking at Phillips playing over guys like Mark Borowiecki and Gryba. Again, sure you could platoon these three guys and rotate them in and out of the line up depending on their performances, but I don’t see that being beneficial to Borowiecki and Gryba. These guys need time on the ice to mature and the Senators need them on the ice to figure out what type of player’s they have. Phillips is not going to change the type of game he plays, that’s just not an option at this stage of his career. So the question becomes, what do you do with him and Neil?

What’s Next?

With Phillips it’s hard for me to say this, but I think his time with the Senators organization may be coming to an end. With his recent injury that has kept him out of the line up for the last 36 games and numerous healthy scratches before being put on the IR, it’s hard to imagine Phillips is going to come into training camp next year and grab a top 4 spot. I have no idea what he and his family are thinking regarding his future, but it would not surprise me the lease if he decided to retire during the off-season.

He’s given this organization everything he’s had over the past 18 years and I don’t think there’s one Senators fan out there that would say otherwise. I don’t see Phillips leaving the City of Ottawa, and I don’t think he is interested in playing for another team. I may be completely wrong, and Phillips might find away to play out his contract, but if I’m not and he does retire I don’t think it will take long to see his #4 hanging beside Daniel Alfredsson‘s  #11.

However, Neil is a whole different story. I still think Neil has the potential to be a nice addition to some teams, mostly in the Western Conference. He loves to play that hard physical game and there was talk around the trade deadline of him being moved to Nashville, and perhaps that’s something Murray and Chris look at again during the off-season. If either of these guys are to stay in Ottawa and continue to be regulars in the lineup though, I think its going to be Neil. He’s extremely respected in the locker room and unlike Phillips, he’s still in the Senators’ fans good books.