OTTAWA — Chris Phillips believed he still had the mental game to play in the NHL, but physically he knew it was time to start a new chapter in life.
The longtime Senators blue-liner announced his retirement on Thursday. Phillips was selected by Ottawa with the first overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft and spent his entire career with the team.
Back problems forced him to miss the entire 2015-'16 season. The stay-at-home defenceman finished with 71 goals and 288 points over 1,179 career regular-season games.
"It's tough to not have that choice (to decide), to be told your back's not good enough," Phillips said at a news conference. "But at the same time, in hindsight, it's probably the best thing to be honest with you."
He added that it was still difficult to come to terms with the reality of his decision.
"I think I've known in my head and my heart for a little while," he said. "Today is a happy day for me."
The father of three becomes Ottawa's first player to play his entire career in a Senators' uniform. He holds the franchise record for games played and his 114 playoff games rank second in team history behind Daniel Alfredsson.
"I'm 100 per cent confident in my decision," he said.
After making his NHL debut in 1997, Phillips quickly became a fixture on the Senators' blue line with his rugged, consistent play.
The 38-year-old Calgary native reflected Thursday on a number of moments throughout his career. He said that scoring the overtime winner in Game 6 of the 2003 Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils and the Senators' run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007 will always hold special meaning.
Phillips hopes he's remembered for always giving his best and working as hard as possible to help the team win. Several teammates from throughout his career were on hand for the announcement.
"I think he's one of the most charitable guys I've ever played with, one of my favourites for sure," said Nashville Predators forward Mike Fisher, who spent 11 seasons playing with Phillips. "I don't think he got enough credit for the stuff he's done in the community, the teammate he was and the type of person he is.
"He's a character guy, a guy you want on your team and a guy that's a great teammate. He's a guy you look up to."
Chris Neil, who spent 14 seasons with Phillips, said his presence will be missed.
"He's just an unbelievable person and a guy you look up to," said Neil. "If you look at the big picture he was underrated. He was the guy that always led by example with his work ethic. You knew he was going to show up and play hard and play consistent every night."
Phillips always took an active role in the community and continues to spearhead a number of charitable endeavours, including a fundraiser next month for those affected by the fires in his hometown of Fort McMurray, Alta.
The Senators also announced that Phillips would join the team's front office in a community relations and alumni role.
Phillips played his last NHL game on Feb. 5, 2015, breaking Alfredsson's franchise record for games played. He underwent back surgery in the off-season and was hopeful to return, but suffered a cracked vertebrae during his rehabilitation.
Phillips won world junior hockey gold for Canada in 1996 and 1997. He also played at the world hockey championship on three occasions, winning silver in 2005 and 2009.