Report: Maple Leafs unable to buy-out Jared Cowen in 1st buy-out window

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

For reasons that appear to be rather complicated, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not used a buyout on the contract of defenseman Jared Cowen, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

The club shut Cowen down in late February after acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators and it was thought that they did so for the purpose of buying him out. That may not have been the case though as Cowen was apparently dealing with a hip injury, according to McKenzie. Nonetheless Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello was explicit about the club’s intention to do so by July 1 at the time.

If Cowen isn’t medically cleared then he can’t be bought out. 

Because Cowen is 25-years-old – or more importantly, under the age of 26 – the Maple Leafs have the ability to to duck two-thirds of the cost of the last year of his contract in a buyout. The savings would be enormous. The former Senators defenseman has one year and $4.5 million in salary remaining on his deal and the cost of buying him out would be just $1.5 million in total. 

Also because of a weird quirk, buying out Cowen would actually result in a -$650,000 cap hit for next season. In other words, buying out Cowen’s deal would actually save the Leafs space against the salary next season before the club would have a $750,000 hit to deal with in 2017-18. 

The club isn’t commenting on Cowen’s status and neither is the NHLPA, although McKenzie suggests the union may get involved and that a grievance is a possibility. 

We’ll see how this plays out. Toronto has three players that could file for players elected arbitration – Frank Corrado, Martin Marincin and Peter Holland – and only one of those players needs to file to provide the Maple Leafs with a second buyout window. If he’s cleared by then, that’s something you’d imagine the club would pursue. 

Otherwise this seems like it could result in a big and unintended additional cost for the deep-pocketed Maple Leafs.

UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has added some additional context, which is crucial considering how odd this situation is. According to Friedman the NHL and NHLPA began a arbitration case this week to determine whether or not Cowen could be bought out and no decision is immediately expected in the matter. 

Friedman notes that Cowen had been cleared to play in the American League in February, but opted to have surgery – on a doctor’s recommendation, though presumably not a Maple Leafs doctor – on his own after leaving the club.  The question of Cowen’s health, then, will be left for an arbitrator to determine

Cowen stands to lose $3 million in salary if he’s bought out, while the Maple Leafs stand to lose a big whack of cap space if Cowen is determined unfit for a buyout to be processed. Considering those stakes, one can understand why a third party might be required to sort this out. 

  • Gary Empey

    The glow of Lou and all his crowbar magic is disappearing as the league is catching onto his deceitful operations.

    This makes me worried that Lupul is not going to disappear and I’d be a bit worried about Robidas too. Let’s hope the leafs did nothing to violate the CBA and face further punitive damage.

    • Gary Empey

      As the article states, if Cowen isn’t medically cleared then he can’t be bought out.

      I am not sure if he is eligible to go on the “injury team” and save some cap space.

      Either way as it stands today, he must be paid the money his contract calls for.

      • JB#1

        I can understand why Cowen is fighting for the extra $3 million but he may have already hurt his case by the statements he made when he was traded over to the Leafs that he was ready to play. Of course, he might have been ready to play but not necessarily injury free.

        Now, if he went and had surgery without the Leafs consent and is now “injured” because of the recovery from that surgery, then unfortunately, this is where the doctors and lawyers are going to have to get involved.

        Time will tell.

        • Gary Empey

          Some good points JB. It looks like Cowen’s situation may have moved into a grey area that wasn’t thought about in the CBA. We all know he was injured and required surgery. It looks like the Leafs are taking the position that after his rebab, and their own assessment, he is fully recovered from his injury. Unfortunately for him he ended up with less than 100% recovery and no longer meets the Leafs standards to make the team.
          So yes he can still play hockey at some level, just not ours. The CBA allows us to buy these type of player out.

          Cowen’s position has to be yes the scar from the surgery has healed but I am still in rehab recovering.

          That leads to the question How long is a fair amount of time to recover.

          There has to be a point where recovery is over but Cowen us unlikely be 100% of what he was.

          There are lots of little other things to consider like: How much bad publicity will come out of a rich team trying to kick an young player with a career ending injury?

          Do the Leafs want to push this to the limit and set a precedent? Always risky for both sides. If they lose that could cost all teams forever.

  • Gary Empey

    Certainly an interesting turn of events. I am sure Lou is well aware of the rules.
    If a player falls in the line of duty he shouldn’t be forced to take a cut in salary. As for the grievance being a possibility. That would only come up if the Leafs said he is healthy, making him a buyout candidate and the doctors say he is not. Is there any chance Cowen has made a miraculous recovery?

    Robidas case is much different. It looks like any doctor would say, if he continued to play he is at risk of an even greater permanent lifetime disability.

    Lupul’s situation is different again from the other two. His underwent successful sports surgery, and will show up at training camp ready to work. He will be 33 in Sept and is on the books for the next two years at $5,250,00 – $3,750,000, with a NTC. When he is healthy he can score goals and would have some value to a contender that is looking for more scoring. At expansion I don’t see L.V. looking for too many 34 years old’s. Our guys have been able to move some difficult contracts that didn’t fit in with the rebuild. Other than that Lupul really is a nice guy. I have never heard him complain or make excuses. He always tries his best on the ice. I am sure when he signed that contract he hoped it would turn out good for both parties.

    Every team knows that some of their players will have injury problems that shorten their career.

  • Brent Wisken

    I am kind of rooting for Cowen here. That’s a lot of money ($3M) he stands to lose especially since he might not play in the NHL again. Individual, non-influential player vs massive organization.