Senators sign RFA Jared Cowen to 4-year, $12.4M deal

Ottawa's last holdout has signed.

Per Bob McKenzie, the Ottawa Senators and Jared Cowen have reached an agreement to sign a 4-year contract with a cap hit of $3.1M per year:

An average annual value of $3.1M per year means the total size of the contract should be approximately $12.4M. Cowen's camp was reportedly looking for an AAV of $3.5M per year, while the Senators were trying to keep the cap hit around $2.8M.

Cowen winds up having missed around four days of training camp.

A four-year term means the deal will expire with Cowen still a restricted free agent--he will have one more year as an RFA at the end of this deal, and will be eligible for arbitration rights, meaning this deal ultimately grades out as a longer so-called "bridge contract."

At first glance, the deal appears to be an overpayment by the Senators. As has been well-documented, Cowen has only played 90 games in the NHL, missing most of last season due to a torn labrum in his hip. Impressively, Cowen was able to return from what was initially diagnosed as a season-ending injury, though he struggled in the second round of the playoffs against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins.

So, why were the Senators willing to pay so much? Ultimately, they tipped their hand with Cowen early, offering him an 8-year, $28M deal. That deal came with the figure Cowen was looking for, but also swallowed up three years of his unrestricted free agent status. The length of that deal was an obvious attempt by the team to lower Cowen's cap hit through extended term, but it also says something about what the team projects as his ceiling: Consider that the Senators only have two other players on contracts longer than five years: Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. Quite simply, the team does not offer long-term deals to players they don't consider cornerstones.

Armed with that knowledge, Cowen was able to sit back and wait for the Senators to come to him with a number close to what he wanted, especially knowing that the team's defensive depth is not a strength. The Senators were willing to pay Cowen like a top-four defenseman because they need him to be a top-four defenseman, and believe he will be one. That was enough to allow Cowen to be patient.

For his part, though, Cowen has put himself behind the eight ball. Outside of a small stretch in 2011-12 where he played with (and outpointed) Erik Karlsson, he has not played the role whose salary he just asked for. The list of close comparables per Capgeek includes some pretty tough names, including both Chris Phillips and Karlsson's current partner, Marc Methot. Cowen has yet to prove he can be anywhere near dependable as Methot, and the idea that he's making more than Karlsson's trophy-warmer, P.K. Subban, is ludicrous on all levels.

The Senators believe in Cowen, and paid him like he's going to be an integral player. Cowen got what he wanted, and now needs to prove he's worth it. There's a lot of faith from both sides on this deal, and if Cowen can't raise his play to a level commensurate with his pay, he's going to find himself labelled as the team's newest whipping boy in a hurry.

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