Is it time for the Leafs to buy out Jared Cowen?

Jeff Veillette
February 09 2016 11:10AM

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Photo Credit: Peter Llewellyn/USA TODAY SPORTS

The hockey world has been shocked today by a blockbuster deal of questionable contracts, which saw the Leafs trade Dion Phaneuf and a bunch of loose SPCs for every single short term bad contract the Senators have. The biggest name that comes back to Toronto? None other than 25-year-old defenceman Jared Cowen. He's big, he's bruising, and he had a lot of people who wanted him over Nazem Kadri in his draft here.

But maybe, just maybe, his tenure in Toronto should be short lived?

cowen

The most glaring issue with Jared Cowen is that he's not what his supporters expected him to be. He might be the most perfect example of the risk beyond investing into young, defensive defencemen; the numerical side of the game as shown that while these players constantly look like they're "playing defence", the act of having to play defence is already counter-productive to success as it stands.

Cowen is mobile enough for a 6'7 body, but that doesn't make him quick compared to the big picture. When you combine that with his lack of offensive instinct, he often finds himself chasing the play. Most of his linemates find themselves giving up fewer attempts, taking a higher percentage of them when playing away from him. Depending on luck, the goals go either way.

CF%Rel SF%Rel GF%Rel OSZ%Rel OISH% OISV%
11/12 (82GP) -0.3

(2nd/7)

-0.51

(2nd/7)

-8.21

(6th/7)

1.43

(3rd/7)

7.24

(5th/7)

0.910

(7th/7)

13/14 (68GP) -1.1

(4th/8)

-2.74

(7th/8)

3.78

(3rd/8)

0.28

(5th/8)

7.87

(2nd/8)

0.932

(3rd/8)

14/15 (54GP) -3.15

(5th/8)

-2.64

(5th/8)

-18.03

(8th/8)

-4.39

(6th/8)

7.41

(5th/8)

0.907

(8th/8)

15/16 (37GP) -5.25

(6th/7)

-4.65

(6th/7)

3.21

(3rd/7)

-7.32

(6th/7)

9.95

(2nd/7)

0.939

(2nd/7)

Over the full course of his career, Cowen has been a negative possession player who has been placed in progressively defensive minutes as the organization realized that he wasn't going to become a two-way defender. Granted, he's not entirely useless; the numbers align with the eyeballs and player traits in the sense that the Sens have historically been more effective penalty killers with him on the ice, but he's certainly closer to "sign in September" than he is to "draft in the top ten".

Finding a spot for him with the Leafs is going to be tough. For this year, it doesn't really matter; Mike Babcock will do his best to win every night, but his roster currently consists of about five or six healthy players that teams would pursue as more than a Plan C. He still has one more year on his deal after this season, though, and you have to imagine that the Leafs are going to want to start the upward climb come October.

Maybe it just makes sense to buy him out?

2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Cap Hit 3100000 3100000 3100000 3100000 RFA
Real Dollars 1500000 2700000 3700000 4500000 RFA
Buyout       -650000 750000

Cowen's contract is an anomaly in the NHL, and it's one that can play to the favour of the Maple Leafs. The back-loading of his contract means that Cowen is due nearly $1.5 million more than his cap hit next season, which creates a rare window of opportunity for a cap credit in his first year, as opposed to a penalty.

This was of little use to the Senators, who are a budget team that don't usually spend to the Salary Cap. But it gives the Leafs a few options. For one, they could find a team that is really hurting for short term space next year and offer him to them as a half rental, half credit at this year's trade deadline, especially if one of those teams isn't able to find that "missing piece" and begins settling for a lesser addition. They might not get a ton for him, but a prospect or a pick of any kind would be a meaningful incentive.

Alternatively, they could use that credit for themselves. If a certain impact forward wearing a different shade of blue and white ends up actually hitting the market, for example, it gives them a little bit more wiggle room to make a blockbuster offer. Moving Phaneuf solved the long term means to that end today; but this could mend any short-term concerns as well. 

Assuming the Leafs aren't able to move Milan Michalek before October and keep Colin Greening in the minors with prospect Tobias Lindberg, their combined cap hit with a Cowen buyout would be $5.05 million; giving the Leafs $2 million in savings next season, and $7 million in four years that follow.

Ultimately, it's possible that this speculation is all for naught. Maybe the coaching staff find that the Senators were using Cowen in an improper way and turn him into a valuable defensive piece over the next few months, making this trade even better for an entirely different reason. But given Cowen's history, the odds aren't overly favourable that such a thing will happen. It's not a bad idea to think of alternative options as soon as they're available, and a buyout would give the Leafs a lot of flexibility.

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Managing Editor of Hockey Content at the Nation Network. Just here so I'll get the opposite of fined. If you'd like to collaborate or simply have a question, email me at jeff@veillette.me
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#1 leafer2020
February 09 2016, 11:20AM
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Do you really think they should buy him out? I think it a bit of knee jerk. The leafs dont need cap space and he is an asset that allows them to trade other folks

Like bozak

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#2 CMpuck
February 09 2016, 11:29AM
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Finally someone talking about this, thought I was insane barking on boards about what a special contract Cowen's is.

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#3 Jon Paul
February 09 2016, 11:57AM
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I realize you just churned this piece out to get a take out into cyberspace, but this was painful to read in some sections.

"Most of his linemates find themselves giving up fewer attempts, taking a higher percentage of them."

Shouldn't this read "getting fewer attempts"? Confusing phrasing here, because it reads like he has a positive possession impact: "giving up fewer attempts [against], taking a higher percentage of them [for]".

"He still his one more year after this season"

Should read "has".

"the numbers align with the eyeballs and player traits in the sense Sens have historically been more effective penalty killers with him on the ice"

Should read "in the sense that the Sens".

"Moving Phaneuf solved the long term ends to that mean today; but this could mend any short-term concerns as well."

Did you mean to reverse "mean [sic]" and "ends" here? It doesn't seem to make sense this way. Clearing cap space by moving Phaneuf is the means to the ends of getting Stamkos.

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#5 Bill-Burford
February 09 2016, 02:47PM
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I like the idea of letting Babcock have a good look at him before dumping him.He may well be not that bad if used right.There is really no rush.

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#6 SEER
February 09 2016, 03:26PM
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I wouldn't be surprised at all, to see Lou try and trade Michalek, Cowen and/or Greening.. and maybe even Lindberg if he has to..., for more draft picks... Dumping Phaneuf's salary was the real big part of the trade for us.., imo...

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#7 Gary Empey
February 09 2016, 05:28PM
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The Leafs will not be getting rid of Jared Cowen. He is Babcock's type of strong, defensive, player. Plays the penalty kill. Only just turned 25. He will be likely paired with a more offensive defenceman. He already knows how to play good positional hockey. Ottawa has always been disappointed in him because he never became an offensive stud. They were wrong to expect him to be. What the Leaf's lost in offense they more than gained in defense and youth.

Unless there are any underlying lifestyle issues Cowen is a good fit for the rebuilding Leafs.

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#8 Kanuunankuula
February 09 2016, 09:35PM
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If Cowen's "Babcock's style" then get him the hell away from the team. We don't need another Hunwick.

If Jake can make him too look like an NHL defender, then great, trade him for anything you get.

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#9 jay
February 09 2016, 10:04PM
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LOL it hasn't even been 24 hours yet and the question of whether he should be bought out has already been asked... that's how bad he is. he'll lead the tank straight to the bottom.

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