Chris Phillips and the Ottawa Senators have come to a verbal agreement on a three-year contract extension. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
One of the great things about working at HNIC is it provides the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with people. You get a deeper understanding of how people think and what really gets their juices flowing. One of the discussions that really stayed with me came in 2006, with Ken Hitchcock.
We were in Philadelphia to do something with Peter Forsberg when Columbus hired him. He'd been fired by the Flyers one month earlier, and, ironically enough, Hitchcock's first game with the Blue Jackets was going to be in Philly. So, we ended up doing a piece on him, too. Off-camera, we got into a discussion about motivation.
I don't know if Hitchcock has a name for his philosophy, but I refer it as "The Disease of Comfort." Basically, he believes that players have to be made uncomfortable to be successful. When they're too relaxed, too set in their ways - too "comfortable," I guess - they simply aren't as effective. It explains a lot about Hitchcock's career trajectory: immediate success in every city, never too long in one place.Shaking things up
I've been thinking a lot about that theory, because it's shaped much of what we've seen during the past few weeks. Clearly, two seasons after a stunning second-half run to make the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues felt their room needed a jolt. They jettisoned Erik Johnson. In Los Angeles, there is concern that Dean Lombardi's wish to keep his youthful Kings together is taking away some of their edge. In Toronto, Tomas Kaberle waited and waited for the team to offer any kind of contract extension. Kaberle, who loved the organization a lot more than it loved him, was willing to make it work. However, the Maple Leafs wouldn't even take the chance.
They felt Kaberle had reached that dreaded "comfort point," where he no longer had the drive to go that higher level. Of course, part of the reason was three years of "How can we get this guy out of here?" but at the end of the day, management makes the final decision.
That brings us to Ottawa. And Chris Phillips. Obviously, the Senators are starting over. It's time. They've had a really good run, but the window eventually closes. Well, in this case, it slammed shut and shattered all over the place. And, of all the decisions Bryan Murray faced, the toughest one had to be Phillips. Sunday night, the defenceman verbally agreed to a three-year deal worth approximately $9-million that will be finalized on Monday. It includes a no-move clause. Raised to the rafters
Three key figures in Senators' history should have their numbers retired when done. Daniel Alfredsson is a complete no-brainer, and Murray is on record saying the captain will not be moved. Jacques Martin is another. Martin didn't have the desired playoff success, but there is no doubt he was reason number one for the organization's turnaround. Of course, he doesn't have a number, so maybe they can retire a can of Brylcreem.
The third is Phillips. You may snicker, but he is totally deserving. Taken first overall in 1996, his decision to go to Ottawa without complaint was a major boost for a team that had to trade Bryan Berard (the top selection a year earlier) because Berard wanted nothing to do with them. All Phillips has done since then is play 1,022 games (including playoffs) and do an incredible amount of work in the community. Not as large an impact as Alfredsson or Martin, but when you remember what a complete mistake Ottawa looked like in 1996, Phillips' role in the turnaround is very significant.
If I owned the team, I would recognize that.
He made it very clear he wanted to stay and be part of the rebuild. At the end of the day, it's going to get done, but it was slightly awkward. Unlike Toronto, which had clumsy dances with Kaberle and Mats Sundin (it should be pointed out that those were two different management teams), Murray said all the right things about Phillips. But, the Senators clearly wanted him to waive the no-trade, and it sounds like it wasn't until the GM realized he wasn't getting great offers that he chose the re-signing route.
Think about it: how many great players or franchise stalwarts get to finish careers on their own teams? Very few. And here's why I worry about Phillips: Ottawa's first choice was to move him. Fans know that, and their first choice was to move him too. If it doesn't go well for him over the next three years, that's going to make it even harder.
For 15 years, Chris Phillips and the organization have been great for each other. I hope it stays that way.
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