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Mendes: Phillips and the rarity of staying with one team

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Ian Mendes
3/3/2014 11:12:44 AM
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When Chris Phillips suits up for his next game, he will move into a tie with Jean Beliveau on the NHL's all-time games played list.

Beliveau played his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens and up to this point, Phillips has played all 1,124 games of his career with the Ottawa Senators. But there is no guarantee that Phillips will be in the Ottawa lineup on Tuesday night in Edmonton, as his future with the team is up in the air.

Phillips has reportedly been offered a one-year contract extension by the Senators, but it's believed the 35-year-old defenseman is looking for a multi-year deal. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement on an extension in the next 48 hours, there is a very realistic chance that Phillips will be moved by Wednesday's 3pm ET trade deadline. And while Phillips has been able to control his fate in the past, he no longer has the luxury of holding the hammer with a no-trade clause this time around – which means general manager Bryan Murray can move him to any team in the NHL that is willing to offer suitable compensation.

If Phillips is moved by the trade deadline, he will join the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Jarome Iginla as players who left Canadian cities after spending the majority of their careers with one team. A couple of years ago it seemed unfathomable that all three of these players would pack up and leave.

But playing an entire career in one Canadian city has been virtually impossible since the NHL expanded in 1967. That ended the Original Six era when players like Beliveau and the Richard brothers played with only one Canadian franchise for the duration of their careers.

Since that time, only one player – Bob Gainey – played more than 1,000 games and spent his entire career with one Canadian team. As it stands right now, Phillips and Gainey are the only two members in that exclusive club – although that could change in the next couple of days. (Other players like Thomas Steen and Stan Smyl spent their entire career in one Canadian city, but did not meet the 1,000-game threshold)

At the same time, it's a lot easier to find players who fit these criteria in American cities. Whereas the Canadian list of players includes just Gainey and Phillips (for now), the American list includes the following 14 players:

Nicklas Lidstrom – Detroit
Steve Yzerman – Detroit
Martin Brodeur – New Jersey
Ken Daneyko – New Jersey
Gilbert Perreault – Buffalo
Denis Potvin – NY Islanders
Bobby Clarke – Philadelphia
Patrik Elias – New Jersey
Dave Taylor – Los Angeles
Craig Ramsay – Buffalo
Wayne Cashman – Boston
Patrick Marleau – San Jose
Tomas Holmstrom – Detroit
Milan Hejduk - Colorado

So just by comparing the two lists, it seems significantly more difficult to spend your entire career in one Canadian city – even when you adjust for the fact there are roughly three times as many American teams in the NHL.

This dates back almost 30 years, when players from the Montreal Canadiens dynasty moved along to other teams to close out their careers. Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Steve Shutt all joined other teams after the Canadiens stopped winning Stanley Cups. And all of the pieces of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty found new homes as well, with most of them ending up with the New York Rangers at some point in their careers.

This trend also includes players who didn't play for winning teams, but were considered to be mainstays with their Canadian teams. Borje Salming played the first 1,099 games of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in a prelude to what Alfredsson would later do, he signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings to finish off his career.

Even popular players who were deemed to be the "face of the franchise" by the fans and media in the 1990s were moved along, like Trevor Linden, Wendel Clark and Ryan Smyth. All three players eventually returned to their original teams to close out their careers, but were unable to stay for several years during their prime.

And the recent examples of Alfredsson and Iginla highlight the challenges of staying with one Canadian team in this current climate. The Sedin twins recently signed long-term extensions that should keep them in Vancouver for the rest of their careers, but don't be surprised if they leave to chase a Stanley Cup at some point if the Canucks don't have a legitimate chance at winning in two or three years.

There are certainly more challenges that make playing in a Canadian market extremely difficult. In some cases, the players feel suffocated by a rabid media and fan base and yearn for a chance to spend a couple of seasons in a fresh place. In other instances, the players fail to live up to the expectations of a contract and are forced to a new destination because public pressure becomes intolerable.

Often a player just wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup and doing so has been impossible for Canadian teams since 1993. And we are all well aware of how Canadian cities have colder climates and higher taxes that make American destinations seem more appealing at times. Whatever the reasons – and most need to be judged on a case-by-case basis – it appears virtually impossible to spend your entire career in one Canadian city.

If Phillips signs an extension in Ottawa, he will join Bob Gainey on this list of post-expansion players to spend their entire careers with one Canadian team and play more than 1,000 games.

But as history shows, it's more likely that Phillips will be moving on to a different destination to close out his career.

Chris Phillips (Photo: Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
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