Famous Last Words (About Jared Cowen)

As someone who spends some time on the internet and social media, I’m supremely aware of its ability to turn into an echo chamber. Get enough like-minded individuals all talking at once in the same place and you inevitably end up with a high degree of group-think and shared opinions. My thoughts of late have consequently been something along the lines of, “Has anyone considered that maybe the Senators should scratch Jared Cowen? Oh, what’s that? Literally everyone? Alright, never mind then.” Basically I am doubtful of my ability to have an opinion on Jared Cowen that will be in any way new or interesting.

And yet here I am with a blog post about Jared Cowen. This is mainly because Jared Cowen consumes my every waking thought. I am in a state of constant fascination with the seemingly endless ways in which he conspires against his own team. Last night I dreamed that Jared Cowen’s hair flowed out of his helmet and engulfed the world in darkness. I can no longer listen to songs by Leonard Cohen because Cohen sounds a little too much like Cowen. I am Captain Ahab and Jared Cowen is my White Whale. Welcome to Your Ishmael Years dot com.

So yes, while the ways in which Jared Cowen has been a disappointment throughout this year and beyond have been well-documented elsewhere, I am not writing this for you; I am writing this for me. I’m writing down all my thoughts and #feelings once and for all (something my therapist has recommended). I hope that this blog post will be the instrument of my cleansing catharsis and I shall wallow no longer in the Valley of the Damned. Come, join me in my descent into the underworld that I may walk in The Light from this moment forward.

The Story So Far

For as long as I can remember, there has never been a shortage of excuses for whatever happened to Jared Cowen. Projected to go very early in the 2009 Entry Draft, Cowen fell to 9th after suffering a torn ACL. Expected to be a major part of the Binghamton Senators during the 2012 lockout, Cowen played three games before suffering a season ending torn hip labrum. Expected to be on his entry level contract for one more year, Cowen became an RFA one year earlier than expected due to some vagaries of ELC contract slide that the Senators were not aware of. That rich 4-year contract an unproven Cowen got in 2013? Tim Murray did that. Last season’s gong show? Hip injury again. Couldn’t crack the playoff roster? Eric Gryba was in the way. It is very easy to spin a narrative that says to date The Path of The Righteous Cowen has been beset on all sides by Evil. I wouldn’t even say that narrative is necessarily inaccurate.

Now in his 6th year with the Ottawa Senators organization, this was supposed to be the year that Cowen finally had everything break his way. In the greatest of all struggling player traditions, Cowen arrived at camp healthy and In The Best Shape of His Life™. His main competition for Big Mean Beardy Bastard, Eric Gryba, had been traded away leaving him with minimal competition for a roster spot. And yet Cowen’s season so far has arguably been his worst to date. For me, his season in a nutshell was a play a few weeks ago where he was out defending a lead late in the 3rd period, gained possession of the puck, and only had to chip it out of the zone to seal the game. Typically, he fired the puck directly into the Senators bench. To be fair this could have happened to anyone, but it didn’t. It happened to Cowen.

So Jared Cowen is finally out of excuses and 15 games into his season, and there is already a chorus of fans calling for his removal. Are there any alternatives to cutting bait with extreme prejudice? Well, I’ve got some options I will now outline for you.

How I Would Try To Fix Jared Cowen

0. Invent a time machine, go back in time, buyout Cowen, and put the savings into giving Cody Franson a contract.

Ok, this one isn’t happening due to a lack of research funding. Moving on…

1. Lock Jared Cowen in a room filled with game tape of Marc Methot and force him to watch all of it a la A Clockwork Orange. After Cowen has watched all the tape, make him watch it again.

So much of what I see Jared Cowen get wrong seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what good defense actually is. Marc Methot, on the other hand, is my platonic ideal of what a defensive defenseman looks like in today’s NHL. Were I coaching Jared Cowen, I would say “Watch Marc Methot. You see how his physical play is a function of his excellent positioning? You see how excellent he is at defending the crease and the slot? Marc Methot gets big hits because he’s in the right place to make them, not because he chases guys all over the ice. You should strive to play like this.”

Cowen plays in such a way that it makes me think that Being Big and Hitting Guys is what’s expected of him, when really he should be focusing on Preventing Shots and Separating Guys from the Puck. If he does this by Being Big and Hitting Guys, so much the better, but Cowen’s game currently looks like someone who is doing stuff without any idea of why he’s doing it. Is it too much to ask that we try to get a struggling player to the point that he’s at least fundamentally sound? Maybe! What are some other options? Glad you asked!

2. Get Jared Cowen the hell away from Mark Borowiecki.

I have made my peace with Mark Borowiecki. He is a marginal NHL defenseman who is being paid as such (for the next 3 years). However, as a defensive partner for Jared Cowen, I believe he is one of the worst options possible. Borowiecki and Cowen do not compliment each other well. They both play the same style, they both shoot on the same side, and they both have the same weaknesses which are only exacerbated when they play together.

While last year Cowen was a negative possession player regardless of who he was playing with, at least this year he has shown some improvement when paired with Erik Karlsson or Chris Wideman. Please observe the figure below.

The 74 inside the blue box represents Jared Cowen’s possession numbers when not playing with Mark Borowiecki.

So far this season, Jared Cowen has not been as much as a tire fire when not paired with Mark Borowiecki. I realize I’m grasping at small sample size straws here, but it’s pretty much the only bit of positive data we’ve got, and I think if you can give Borowiecki and Cowen 15 games together, you can also afford to give Wideman and Cowen at least five. In addition, if you’re the sort of person who cares about optics, I’d say it’s easier to bench a guy making $1.3MM a year instead of one who’s making $3.7MM this year. As an added bonus, playing Cowen with Wideman would also satisfy my craving to have a defensive pairing that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito from the movie Twins.

Is this ever going to happen? Well, I’m not so sure…

What’s Going To Happen Instead

The biggest advantage I have is that when you change coaches your team is in turmoil and we were a chasing a playoff spot right from when I took over. When you’re chasing or trying to come from behind all the time, a lot of times you’re not as patient with players. You can’t let a guy figure it out on the power play. You can’t let a guy figure it out in the top six forwards because you just think there is too much at stake. I think the biggest advantage is to have the camp, get it going … You still want to get off to your best start possible but not every game is do or die. You’ll probably let some players play through some situations that I didn’t let them last year when you’re under the gun. – Dave Cameron, September 12 2015

Well, part of the reason why I traded Eric Gryba was to give Jared Cowen a chance to play. I felt that, like you mentioned, that for the last 19 or so games last year, he didn’t play. Partly because of injury, but partly because he couldn’t get a spot. I want to get him a chance to play… – Bryan Murray, September 24, 2015

I believe we are at Peak Cowen. Based on the above quotes from management, I think it’s clear that Dave Cameron is going to play Jared Cowen for 20 or 40 or 60 or 80 games this season regardless of how much he struggles. I don’t know how many games it will take, but at some point Cameron’s going to have seen enough. Once that happens and Cowen comes out of the lineup, I believe he will be coming out of the lineup for good. If you want to see less of Jared Cowen, I’m sure all you have to do is wait. With that said, I think that Dave Cameron does Jared Cowen and the Ottawa Senators at large a great disservice if his plan for the 3rd pairing is to simply fire Borowiecki and Cowen at the brick wall an infinite number of times until they break through. I am often loathe to criticize coaching decisions because I believe coaches are both more qualified than me and in possession of more information than I have, but we are now approaching the one-fifth mark of the season, and at a certain point a coach’s patience begins to look like the absence of a Plan B. It’s a coach’s job to put his players in a position where they can succeed, and I think it’s become clear that Jared Cowen cannot succeed next to Mark Borowiecki (or vice versa). Maybe Cowen can’t succeed next to anyone, but if management is so keen to “see what they’ve got” before burying him in the press box or AHL, why not confirm that with some hard, honest-to-God data points?

We got a single game of a Cowen-Ceci pairing in last night’s gong show, but all indications are that Cameron will be going back to Cowen-Borowiecki starting tomorrow night. This makes a bit a sense, as it contains the hilariously poor defensive zone coverage to the 3rd pairing instead of allowing it to metastasize to multiple pairings, but it also looks like merely playing out the string until Bryan Murray decides Cowen’s had enough of a chance.

Fixing Jared Cowen might be a problem without any solution, but Dave Cameron owes it to everyone involved to look for one. Scratch Boro, free Wideman. Either do what’s best for the team, or do what’s best for Cowen. Don’t maintain the status quo which is neither. Anything less is a waste of everyone’s time and money.

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