Cowen Suddenly An RFA – What Is He Worth?

The other bit of unexpected news over the weekend (though much less consequential) was the matter of Jared Cowen needing a new contract.

Cowen was slated to be entering the final year of his entry-level contract in 2013/14, but on closer reading someone (probably his agent) discovered his ELC had actually expired at the conclusion of the 2012/13 season.

Danishh at hfboards had a great post explaining the details:

"Because Cowen signed his first contract in 2010 and not in 2009, his first contract signing age was 19, not 18. If your first contract signing is 19, your contract is 19, your contract can only slide once as per 9.1 d (i). To use 9.1 d (ii) to slide a second time, first contract signing age has to be 18. Therefore yes, Jared Cowen is an RFA. By delaying signing Jared Cowen's ELC to February of 2010 instead of any point between being drafted and December 31, 2009, we lost a year of his ELC."

From my perspective as a fan of good contracts, and Melnyk's perspective as an owner, this development probably isn't a bad thing – it's almost guaranteed this player would have had more leverage a year from now.

Nevertheless I got to thinking what have other defensive defenceman received coming out of entry-level?

The following is a list of defenceman who played at least 50 NHL games over the course of their ELC, averaged at least 17 minutes a game, at least 1:30 shorthanded per game, and scored fewer than .40 points per game, and signed new contracts in the last 4 years.

(sorted by average TOI/gm.)

Now for the most part this is a pretty good list, Luke Schenn probably the only contract you'd point to as "bad". At the same time, is there a good reason for the Senators to give Cowen 3M$ or more a season now as I've seen a few people suggest?

If you're Cowen's camp your best case is that he leads this group in shorthanded ice time per game. The Senators counterpoint would be he's the only defenceman here under 19 minutes a game, among the lowest scorers and has played the second fewest amount of games.

To my eye the Senators case is a lot stronger, Cowen's ELC body of work is much closer to Alzner and Scandella than it is to Vlasic, Hamonic and McDonagh.

If you look at usage statistics like quality of competition and zone starts Cowen looks even worse by comparison. For all his promise, Cowen hasn't been relied on to play "hard minutes" at even-strength, and in fact has been sheltered a fair bit. McDonagh and Hamonic are both coming off seasons in which they were #1 defenceman on their team playing against and shutting down top players. I realize he wasn't 100% and probably shouldn't have even been playing, but Cowen looked a far ways away from that level in the playoffs.

Maybe the Senators surprise and offer Cowen a long-term deal and security betting on improvement, more or less what they did with Kyle Turris. But I suspect they're going to push for a bridge deal in the 2-3 year range at somewhere between 1-2M$ dollars per…or at least that's what I'd do. The fact Cowen was hurt in Bingo last fall and as a result was paid an AHL salary for much of the year could throw a wrinkle into negotations…if the Sens try to get too frugal here. Story goes Cowen was none too happy about that experience.

Still Cowen's leverage here is little, he basically has one full NHL season as a #5 defenceman and no arbitration rights. This is a negotiation the Senators should be welcoming.

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