'My heart is in Ottawa'
Neil happy he's still with Senators, hopeful he'll get a new contract
|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).
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."
"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).