Colin Greening probably wasn’t wanted by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When the Leafs dealt Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in early February, it was seen as a coup for cagey Toronto general manager Lou Lamoriello, who moved not a team captain, but a hefty contract and a living, breathing reminder of a past which the new Maple Leafs’ regime is desperately trying to forget.
But if Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was to take on Phaneuf’s contract, Lamoriello would have to, in part, return the favour.
Which is how Greening ended up in Toronto. With the St. John’s native pocketing $2.75 million playing in Binghamton of the American league this season — and standing to make another $3.2 million next year — Murray very likely insisted the Leafs take some of his salary if he was getting Phaneuf.
Fast forward a couple or four weeks and Greening is sitting in one end of Toronto’s locker room inside Montreal’s Bell Centre, another new face looking to make an impression on Mike Babcock in what’s left of another lost Toronto hockey season.
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But unlike Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic or Zach Hyman — programs anyone? — Greening brings with him an NHL resume of 250-plus appearances, and now, 14 games in with his new team, he has proven to be a nice find for Lamoriello.
Greening has two goals and four assists as a Leaf, is only a minus-one on a lousy team and his nine PIMS includes a good scrap with Phaneuf, ironically enough.
Not that this will ever be mistaken for the Doug Gilmour trade with the Flames back in ’92, but consider this: Greening’s half-dozen points are just seven fewer than his total in 41 games with Binghamton this season, and two shy of his combined total with Ottawa and Bingo in 2014-15.
While many observers had Greening all but written off as a disastrous Ottawa contract and pegged as another European-bound ex-NHLer. Greening kept the faith even as he toiled in the minors on a team that’s among the AHL’s bottom-feeders.
“I think I had come to terms with the fact I’d spend the rest of the year in Binghamton,” said Greening, a product of the Avalon minor hockey association in the city. “I looked at the schedule, looked at the number of games we had left and said to myself, ‘Let’s have a good close to the year and see what happens in the summer.’
“All of a sudden, the trade happens, I’m on a flight to Edmonton and I’m back... a chance to make the most of an opportunity. It’s crazy how things can change in the blink of an eye.”
He started in the Leafs’ next eight games, averaging 15-plus minutes of icetime per outing. On Feb. 29, he was assigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, but it was merely a paper transaction, to ensure he remains playoff-eligible for the Marlies when the Leafs’ season is done.
Greening didn’t miss a beat, dressing in each of the Leafs’ six games since then.
His NHL career could make for a curious study. In his first full season with the Senators, back in 2011-12, Greening scored 17 goals and 37 points, generating some mild chatter for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
The next season was the lockout year, but he still produced in the 47 games in which he appeared when the players returned to work. After that, however, it’s been a slippery slide downhill.
After he was rewarded by Murray with a contract nearing $6 million for the work he’d done in his first two years, Greening appeared to regress.
A solid 6-2 and 210 pounds, Greening got to the NHL the honest way — playing an up and down game, mucking it up in the corners and making a beeline to the front of opposing goaltenders.
Some pundits have suggested he’s gotten away from that, an opinion not shared by the player.
“I wouldn’t say there’s much of a difference (when he broke into the NHL and now),” he said. “The difference is there are more opportunities here, not to say I wasn’t given an opportunity in Binghamton because (coach) Luke Richardson was great to me.
“It really is true a change of scenery can make a difference. I’m playing with more confidence, and I’m put in situations where I feel I can thrive. All those factors come into play. But I don’t think I’ve changed anything.”
Outside the very few Leafs who appear to be stable in Toronto — Morgan Reilly, Nazem Kadri, James Van Riemsdyk and maybe Jake Gardiner — all bets are off with Babcock and Lamoriello and how their team will look next season.
What’s left of 2015-16 is an audition for next year.
No one realizes or understands this more than the Cornell-educated Greening, who is anything but dense.
“I can equate this to my first year in Ottawa,” he said, “when there were a lot of injuries and they were trading away a lot of players. I was lucky enough to be called up and given an opportunity. This is a very similar situation with Toronto, where there have been trades and injuries. It gives guys opportunities.
“I’m just trying to make the most of this one. It’s all in my hands now.”