When Toronto hosts Ottawa in their third game back from the all-star break, it will mark exactly one-year that Chris Phillips has been sidelined from the Senators’ lineup.
The 37-year-old blueliner missed the final 34 games, six of which were post-season contests, of Ottawa’s 2014-15 campaign with a back injury. He had surgery to repair the injury in April 2015 and it was believed he would be ready for the beginning of the 2015-16 season. However, Phillips suffered a cracked vertebrae in his back during the summer and it has put his chances of returning this season — or at all — in jeopardy.
“I haven’t been skating a lot,” Phillips told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch. “It’s been frustrating and, right now, I’m at a point where I’ve taken that pressure off of where I’m skating and pushing to get back. Right now, I’m just trying to get healthy and then I’ll go from there.”
Phillips admitted in an August interview with the Sun’s Don Brennan that retirement had crossed his mind on days when his recovery was at its most difficult. Phillips told Brennan that thoughts of a return to hockey took a back seat at times throughout the summer when the Senators blueliner began wondering if he would “walk upright, or have a game of catch with (his) kids.”
Phillips told Garrioch that the Senators haven’t imposed any deadline or timelines in terms of a potential return date. There are only 32 games remaining in Ottawa’s campaign barring a playoff appearance, and with Phillips’ admittance that he hasn’t been skating, it begs the question if he’ll be able to return at all. If he can’t suit up for the remainder of the season, it’s then cause for wondering if he’ll ever play in the NHL again.
This season is the final year of a two-year, $5-million deal Phillips inked with the Senators in March 2014. If he’s not back to play at any point after the all-star break, it’s hard to say whether or not the Senators will have a spot, or the money, to take a chance on the veteran defenseman. Phillips will turn 38 in March and he’s already played close to 1,200 games in the league. He’s almost certainly not a top-pairing defenseman anymore, and there’s reason to believe he’d be best suited for a bottom-pairing role with limited minutes.
One thing is for certain, though, and that’s that Phillips wishes to leave the game on his own terms. Unfortunately, he may not get that option.
“For me, it’s one of those things where you just don’t want to be pushed out of the game that way,” Phillips told Garrioch. “I’ve played through a lot of stuff in my career and it’s really frustrating to be faced with something that I just can’t play through. My body is the boss on this one and not my brain and that’s been really frustrating.”