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'My heart is in Ottawa'

Neil happy he's still with Senators, hopeful he'll get a new contract

Thursday, 05.03.2009 / 2:11 PM / Features
By Rob Brodie  -
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\'My heart is in Ottawa\'
Rugged forward Chris Neil remains sidelined with a lacerated right calf but hopes to begin skating with the team either on Saturday or Monday (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography).
Maybe it wasn't the best phone call Chris Neil has ever received.

But when the clock struck 3 p.m. on Wednesday and general manager Bryan Murray informed the rugged Senators winger that he was staying in Ottawa, that trademark gap-toothed grin no doubt lit up the entire Neil home. Even if he knows it isn't quite a done deal just yet.

"It was a little bit of a relief, hearing that I wasn't going anywhere," Neil said of the moment he learned he wouldn't need to pack his bags for a destination somewhere else in the National Hockey League. "My family is here, this is where my heart is. This is where I was drafted. This is where I want to be."

Until Wednesday, that was looking like less and less of a possibility. With Neil slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Murray had previously stated that if a new contract wasn't in place by the trading deadline, he would entertain offers for the veteran winger. Instead, the two sides now have a wider window to close the deal.

Neil made it clear earlier today that he doesn't want to be anywhere else.

"That's what it's always been about, staying here for a long time," he said. "I want to stay here and I want to retire here. That's my goal. I've been able to stay with the team this long (495 career games) and I'd like to finish my career here.

"My heart is in Ottawa. They've been an unbelievable organization (to me), right from the ownership on down. You can't say enough about that. The fans are top-notch, they're No. 1 in the world, the way they get behind you and support you and cheer for you. That means a lot."

Though Neil is still sidelined with a lacerated right calf, Senators head coach Cory Clouston admitted he's happy he'll eventually get his gritty winger back in the lineup.

"You need those types of guys in your lineup. You don't want those guys to leave," Clouston said after the Senators' pre-game skate in advance of tonight's matchup with the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). "Over the next couple of months, our goal is to sign the guy. We want (Neil) in the lineup. He's a big part of this team and he has been for many years.

"He adds an element to our team that's very important. You need those guys to win."

"They've been an unbelievable organization (to me), right from the ownership on down. You can't say enough about that. The fans are top-notch, they're No. 1 in the world, the way the get behind you and support you and cheer for you. That means a lot." - Chris Neil
There is still no timetable for Neil's return. He hopes to take part in the pre-game skate either Saturday or Monday and is itching to go to war for his teammates again soon.

"I'll go out and do anything for this organization and the guys in this dressing room," said Neil. "If it's going out and fighting the biggest guy in the NHL, that's what I've got to do. That's just the way I am. I bleed for this team and I try to play hard for this team every game. That's just me and I'll keep doing that."

Meanwhile, with the trading deadline finally out of the way, the Senators can finally put their complete focus back on the games. They're 16 points shy of an Eastern Conference playoff berth with only 20 games left to play, but there are still goals to achieve.

"We're hoping to put a good stretch together," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "(Our goal) should be to play as well as we can and build on something to carry forward to next season. For us, definitely, it's to finish real strong and build a foundation that will go on to next year."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott (7-4-3) returns to the Senators net as tonight's starter ... Binghamton callup Peter Regin, who played strongly during his earlier stint with the big club, is being inserted into the lineup. Shean Donovan also gets the call, while Christoph Schubert will be tonight's healthy scratch ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the game against the Oilers, while 2,500 are left for Saturday's visit by the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).




1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
3 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
4 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
5 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
6 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
7 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
8 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52


E. Karlsson 82 20 54 -15 74
J. Spezza 75 23 43 -26 66
K. Turris 82 26 32 22 58
C. MacArthur 79 24 31 12 55
B. Ryan 70 23 25 7 48
A. Hemsky 75 13 30 -15 43
M. Michalek 82 17 22 -25 39
M. Zibanejad 69 16 17 -15 33
M. Methot 75 6 17 0 23
P. Wiercioch 53 4 19 -1 23
C. Anderson 25 16 8 .911 3.00
R. Lehner 12 15 6 .913 3.06