Photo Credit: Mark DesRosiers/USA TODAY SPORTS
While the Toronto Maple Leafs’ cap situation appears to show a team hanging on by a thread entering into October, their biggest potential saving grace appears to have had another setback in its conclusion. According to General Fanager, there is still some groundwork remaining in his arbitration process.
Update on #Leafs Cowen: according to sources he will have another grievance hearing yet to be scheduled. Expected soon.
— General Fanager (@generalfanager) August 15, 2016
The Leafs acquired Cowen as one of the many ‘spare parts’ placed into the Dion Phaneuf trade to even out salary, and from the moment it happened, we were quick to declare that the Leafs should look into buying him out. Sure enough, Lou Lamoriello announced his plans to do just that a few weeks later, and in mid-June, the team initiated the processes by placing him on waivers and getting the paperwork ready.
But Cowen was having none of it. In the eleventh hour before free agency, it was reported that the Leafs were unable to buy the hulking defensive defenceman out, as Cowen and his agent argued that he was unfit to play, and therefore, unfit to be bought out.
That’s where things get murky, though. Cowen’s unfitness appears to be the result of a surgery that he had after being shut down by the Leafs. He was cleared to play in February after being assigned to the Marlies in case of hockey emergency, but now, his hip might be at a point where he’s able to live a normal everyday life, but not at a point where he can handle the rigours of pro hockey.
It’s not surprising that Cowen would fight tooth and nail to not be bought out with this considered. Thanks to his contract structure and age, Cowen would be set to lose in excess of $3 million, which is not an insignificant sum when you’re only on your second NHL contract and are in a position where retirement has to be considered at the ripe old age of 25. At the same time, his buyout would come with a cap credit of $700,000 on top of his base salary this year, meaning that they could turn a five figure amount of space into a comfortable total heading into a season with multiple rookies who could earn bonuses.
Certainly, the longer this takes, the more frustrating it must be for the Leafs. If the buyout is indeed upheld, they may have to look to the trade market a little earlier in the year than expected to avoid overages for next year. But with so much at stake for both a team near the cap ceiling and a player supposedly nearing his career finish line at a young age, it’s important that due diligence is done.