TORONTO – Jared Cowen’s time with the Maple Leafs is seemingly over before it truly began, although the exact manner in which he’ll depart the organization is still up in the air.
The 25-year-old defenceman was placed on waivers Friday and will be a prime candidate to be dealt before the trade deadline if he goes unclaimed on Saturday, as expected.
That’s because a player who clears waivers can be assigned to the American Hockey League for a period of 30 days, which makes Cowen an even greater asset to a team interested in him acquiring for the purpose of gaining a $650,000 salary cap credit next season by buying out his contract.
The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, are the kind of team that could use such a credit because they are poised to exceed the $71.4-million cap this season with rookie Artemi Panarin on pace to earn $2.575-million in performance bonuses. Any overage would be applied to their cap in 2016-17, a number that could be somewhat offset by the Cowen credit.
The main reason he’s likely to be acquired by trade, rather than claimed on waivers, is because of the $3.1-million cap hit he carries this season. Cowen is most valuable to teams that are pressed up against the upper limit. The Leafs would almost certainly have to take back a salary – Bryan Bickell’s buried contract is a candidate because it currently counts $3.05 million against Chicago’s cap – in addition to getting an asset if there’s a deal made.
Even if Cowen clears waivers at noon ET on Saturday and isn’t dealt away, the Leafs aren’t believed to have interest in seeing him play games for the organization.
It was a tough development for the former ninth-overall pick, who as recently as Thursday was hopeful he would get a chance to revive his career in Toronto. He’s been rehabbing a hip injury with the team’s medical staff since being acquired from Ottawa as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade on Feb. 9.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Cowen said after learning he had been placed on waivers.
“Well I imagine (GM Lou Lamoriello) will address that, I don’t think that’s my spot,” said coach Mike Babcock. “But obviously disappointing day for him and that. It’s been disappointing for him in some ways just because he’s getting healthy here now, they’ve really worked hard on his hip and they have to continue to work hard on that. But he’s healthy now and he’s ready to go, so whether that be down for conditioning I don’t know.
“You speak to Lou.”
Through a team spokesman, Lamoriello deferred comment to his scheduled media availability following Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
No matter where Cowen ends up, it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll get another chance to play again this season. It would be pretty risky to put him in a game even at the AHL level because injured players aren’t eligible to be bought out in June.
Cowen is scheduled to earn $4.5 million in the final year of his contract next season, but seems destined for unrestricted free agency instead.