Dreger: "I think that the #Sens are finally getting to place where they're willing to cut bait here" on Jared Cowen.— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) January 4, 2016
When I saw the tweet, I wasn't really sure it was real. But sure enough, that is what Dreger said. And he is up there with Bob McKenzie as one of the more well-known reporters that has his sources, so I would trust him on this. Perhaps some of that statement is just his opinion, but he must also know that management is getting tired of his play.
This is a pretty big development to say the least, because it was just six months ago that Bryan Murray was saying he traded Eric Gryba in order to get Cowen a look in the top six and more playing time.
Bryan Murray said part of why he traded Gryba because he wants to give Cowen a chance to be the real good player he thinks he can be.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 27, 2015
He felt like he could play a role on the club, even if it was just as a third pairing guy. That didn't mean he was guaranteed anything per se, but he was at least going to play for the first 25-30 games or so.
Now almost halfway through the season, he has shown absolutely nothing. His game hasn't improved at all. It's not even the fancy stats that make him look bad either; if you have a pair of eyes you should be noticing the simple mistakes he makes. He doesn't have the spatial awareness that a good defensive defenseman needs, he has a horrible time breaking out of his own zone, and speedy forwards blow past him night in and night out. And now he'll be turning 25 at the end of the month, and has had 244 NHL games under his belt.
Are we really going to sit here and say that he has some untapped potential that we have not seen yet? The experiment with him has gone on long enough, as over 200 games is easily enough time to determine whether a player is NHL-worthy. He is not going to be the next Zdeno Chara, nor the next Shea Weber. Heck, he won't even be a 3rd pairing player. I think almost everybody that follows the Senators has finally realized this, although I'm sure there are still a few unrealistic fans out there.
The good news is that it seems like the Senators organization has also finally realized what fans have been seeing for a few years now. However, the bad news is that if (more like when) they move Cowen before the deadline or in the summer, they will be selling extremely low on him. At this point, I'm not sure if a team would even claim him on waivers. His contract is not good, with one year left after this with a cap hit of $3.1 million. He'll make $4.5 million in actual money though, and you can bet that Ottawa badly does not want to pay that.
If Ottawa is lucky, they can perhaps get a draft pick of some kind from a team, although I doubt it's anything higher than a 3rd or 4th round pick. But at this point, I would take anything. If nobody is interested I would be fine with either waiving him, or buying him out if nobody claims him. Having said that though, I would be a bit surprised if there was no team willing to trade for him. A team like Colorado is a perfect fit, because a) they have a huge hole on defense, and b) their front-office seems so out of it.
Cowen could be a Patrick Roy-type player, so it could be a fit. At this point, I can't see any scenario in wihch he's with the team next year. He's been healthy scratched for three straight games, and Murray seemed to hint that this year was his last year to prove himself. He hasn't made the most of his opportunity, and he'll be with a different team. That is great news for people who have wanted him traded for a while now.
However, like I said earlier, it isn't all good news. This is the third straight season that Cowen has been not good at all. As in, almost unplayable. In his rookie season in 2011-12, the expectations for him weren't too high, and everyone seemed to agree that he was solid throughout the year. Looking back, he was probably just average. In 2012-13, he missed most of the year, so he was still a bit of a mystery in terms of what he could do.
Then 2013-14 happened. He was abysmal, and some Senators fans started to realize that maybe he wasn't as good as we thought he was. I had my reservations about him as well. Then by early 2014-15, he had shown no progress, and that's when many more people began to see the real player that he was. But he was just 23, and Ottawa could have gotten a real asset for him at the time.
Even after being scratched plenty of time in February, April, and March, Murray had offers on Cowen at the trade deadline for the second straight year. But Murray was too afraid to deal him:
Garrioch on Cowen: "Bryan Murray is afraid that if they send him somewhere else, he'll come back to haunt them" okkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk— Paul (@Sens_Army_) March 13, 2015
The frustrating part about this is that Ottawa could have gotten a legitimate return for him, even when he wasn't playing good hockey. 2013-14 would have been a good time to deal him, but I can understand why the team would wait on him because he was coming off of a major injury. But even in 2014-15, they must have started to realize that he isn't who they think he is. Despite that, I have no doubt in my mind that the Senators could have gotten a first round pick for him if they had made the trade during the 14-15 season.
A deal for him may have included a roster player instead, but I think Ottawa could have gotten either a 1st or a young prospect that's close to the NHL in return. He still had some unwarranted top-10 pick pedigree, and tons of teams in the NHL don't know how to evaluate defensemen. This wasn't even that long ago, and it could have gone a long way to making Ottawa's talent pool better, plus they could have gone out and signed another defenseman with that extra money.
From the Senators perspective, I can see where they are coming from though. They know how good Cowen was in the WHL, and they had high hopes for him. The last thing they want to see is another Ben Bishop-esque scenario where he plays amazing for his new team and Ottawa ends up making a big mistake. But the thing is, even last year you could tell that he just didn't have what it took to be in the NHL.
Luke Peristy tried to look at it from Murray's perspective by saying he was weighing the risk, and compared the situation to Tyler Seguin. But Seguin is different, because he was a 2nd overall pick, and had an absolutely sky-high ceiling. Plus he had performed remarkably in the NHL in the past with Boston, but was inconsistent. Cowen had never succeeded, and the best he did was play good enough in his rookie season as a 20-year old. Not all young players should be treated equally, and Ottawa should have been realistic with themselves as to what the risk of trading him actually was (hint: not much). This isn't even really a hindsight is 20/20 scenario either, because we could see his awful play beginning in 2013-14, so we had evidence that perhaps we wasn't going to be good enough.
Furthermore, his ceiling was getting lower and lower by each passing month, meaning that in the worst case scenario that he did become good, Ottawa would be losing a competent second pairing player. That sounds like a bad loss for a team in need of defensive help, but even calling him a second pairing defenseman at any point last year is a massive stretch. So I can see why the Senators didn't want to risk getting burned on their own pick, but sometimes you have to make risks. And it looked like a pretty good bet that Cowen just wasn't very good.
He has been hurting the team for a few years now, and at this point he has almost no value. By waiting another year to see if Cowen can miraculously discover his game, Ottawa essentially threw away a valuable asset in return. If Murray can somehow get something of value in a trade with Cowen in the next six months, then perhaps I spoke too soon. But I can see where this is headed, and it's not good.