Cowen will remain an unrestricted free agent, as Toronto’s buyout of his contract was deemed legal. Back in January, Frank Seravalli of TSN reported that a buyout of Cowen’s contract would give a team a $650K cap credit for 2016-17, and count for $750K against the cap in 2017-18.
Shortly thereafter, the Maple Leafs acquired Cowen in the Dion Phaneuf trade. Cowen did not play a single game for Toronto as GM Lou Lamorellio sent him home to home await a buyout in March; Cowen’s agent was given permission to speak with other teams about signing as a UFA. Cowen was sent home because the CBA stipulates that an injured player cannot be bought out, so the Maple Leafs did not want to risk him re-injuring his hip and being unable to be bought out. However, Cowen and his agent grieved the eventual buyout for that exact reason: they believed he was hurt and therefore ineligible to be bought out.
The two sides met with the arbitrator on October 19, and ultimately the arbitrator ruled that there was no evidence that Cowen was unfit to play when the Maple Leafs bought him out in July.
Prior to this decision, Cowen was a free agent in the eyes of the NHL. He remains free to sign with any team, and the Maple Leafs remain at 48 contracts with the cap credit for this season.