The Ottawa Senators may soon have to make a difficult decision on what to do with defenceman Chris Phillips. Phillips will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Technically, he’s in the same boat as Zdeno Chara was last season. The conundrum is this: Do you let Phillips finish his contract and take your best shot in the playoffs? Under that scenario, you generally lose the player, getting nothing in return (this was the case with Chara).
Or do you trade the player at the deadline (Feb 27th, 3pm) and at least get something for him?
The Senators have an ace in the hole here. Unlike Chara, who was only ever interested in the highest bidder, Phillips is very likely to offer a hometown discount. His wife Erin is an Ottawa girl. He’s also very active in the community and its many charity organizations. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to keep Phillips. It just gives the Sens an edge.
In 2004, Phillips signed a 3 year contract worth 8 million dollars. That averages out to 2.6 million dollars per season. If I’m to look at comparables, Phillips is in the class of a Jay McKee. McKee went to the NHL auction last summer. St. Louis was the high bidder with 16 million dollars over four years. Phillips would likely get that too, particularly when there are very few 2007 UFA defencemen as good as him.
So the question is, is Chris Phillips worth 4 million dollars a year to the Ottawa Senators? When dealing with salary cap restrictions, Phillips fits at 3. Not 4. The Senators can sign him for something under that. If he demands 4, the Senators do have other options.
Eric Brewer’s stock has fallen hard since he moved to St Louis. However, since Andy Murray has taken over, Brewer as looked his old self again. Brewer is a UFA this summer too and makes only 2 million right now. If I can get an Olympian, who’s a year younger than Phillips, for less money, I’m doing it.
Boston’s Brad Stuart is also an intriguing UFA at 2.4 million this season. Same age, heavy shot, great skater.
None of this is to say the Sens shouldn’t be trying to sign Phillips to a reasonable extension right now. It’s just that the cap has forced the Sens to look at Phillips’ job as a number. If Phillips decides to force that number too high between now and July 1st, then the Sens have a tough call to make. Keep him and you risk losing him for nothing. Some fans will say, free agency be damned. You have to take your Stanley Cup shot while you can. But you also cannot allow major commodities to continually walk away without re-stocking.
Re-stocking and building through the draft has never been so important. Sheesh. Sidney Crosby is going to be a UFA at age 25. When guys like Crosby move on, your secondary scorers must take his place. Then you fill the bottom of your roster with prospects (blossoming draft picks).
In a way, it’s like running an OHL club. This week, we saw so many older players moved for young players and draft picks. NHL clubs will basically have to start treating the UFA crowd the same way. You can make an exception and stock a little money away for a couple of overagers (NHL superstars) but otherwise you usually have to bite the bullet, always sure to have an eye on re-stocking.
The hope here is that an extension with Phillips is reached soon. If not, I would move Phillips at the deadline for a good young defensive prospect or first rounder and hope Christoph Schubert can plug the hole this spring.