Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Da lil Guy on 09/14/13 at 02:50 PM ET
According to reports, Jared Cowen will sign with the Ottawa Senators for a price tag of $12.4 million over the next four seasons. In terms of average salary, that would would make the 9th overall pick in 2009 the second highest paid defenceman on the team, behind only Erik Karlsson. It puts him ahead of Karlsson's first pairing partner and Canadian Olympic camp invitee Mark Methot as well as the Senators' longest serving player and team leader Chris Phillips.
While it's probably safe to assume that the actual salary paid will grow over the term of Cowen's new deal, it's also safe to say that this puts the weight of expectations squarely on the 22 year old defenceman's shoulders. This is a deal that pays him for what he is expected to do, not for what he's already done.
Cowen's first seasons in the Sens organization have, frankly, been fraught with some disappointment. Most of this is not his fault – as his young career has been plagued with problems that have hindered his development. This started with a knee injury in the season leading up to his draft and continued with a bought of mononucleosis and the subsequent recovery that set back his development and dropped him down on the Senators' defensive depth chart. In 2010-11 he had an impressive year in Spokane and managed to join the Binghamton Senators for the tail end of a playoff drive that ended with a Calder Cup victory for the Senators farm team.
In 2011-12 Cowen joined Ottawa on a full time basis in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Senators, but actually ended with an improbable run to the post season. Cowen was able to use his impressive physical tools well early in a mostly defensive, lower pairing role. His performance earned him some early Calder trophy hype from his coaches and teammates, and was one of the reasons that the Senators were able to move another highly touted defensive prospect (David Rundblad) in a deal to acquire centre Kyle Turris. However, with Rundblad's departure came increased responsibilities for Cowen, though, including more pressure to step up in an offensive role. Cowen wilted somewhat under this pressure, and by the end of the season he'd not only dropped out of the Calder trophy dialogue, but also left a lot of fans wondering whether the offensive upside he'd showed in junior would translate to the NHL level.
There were high hopes for Cowen last year might be a breakout for Cowen, but the lockout forced him to start his year in Binghamton, where he subsequently suffered what was supposed to be a season ending hip injury. Unfortunately for Cowen, that meant that when the players returned to the lockout, he was still stuck injured with the B-Sens, earning his AHL salary. Cowen surprised a lot of people by returning from injury early towards the end of the regular season – only to have had what most agree was a terrible personal performance the Sens payoff run. Although rust from the injury probably had a lot to do with this, he also seemed to make bad decisions with the puck and bad choices at the offensive line when he was picking his opportunities to pinch in. His premature return from injury and subsequent hold out this season might have been based, in part, on the pay cut he took due to his injury.
A lengthy hold-out would have been a disastrous turn for a player whose development has already faced significant setbacks, so his new contract is great news for all involved. However, it also puts him under a microscope as the organization will be looking for him to justify their faith. If Cowen can have the break out season some hoped for, and demonstrate that he can be the complete player the club projects him to be, today's deal may be a steal four years down the road. If he tops out as a more one-dimensional blue liner, it could be an albatross.
Hopefully for Cowen his years of setbacks are behind him and he can show he's going to be worth every penny.
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