Toronto Maple Leafs

Can Colin Greening keep contributing?

March 13, 2016: Toronto Maple Leafs forward Colin Greening (38) gets position in front of the net during the second period of a regular season NHL hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings played at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

The Dion Phaneuf trade was one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ finest moves last season. The team was able to get out from the defenseman’s massive contract and used their financial muscle to sweeten the pot by taking on some of Ottawa’s own ugly deals.

The key pieces of the trade were prospect Tobias Lindberg and a second round pick, but one of the forgotten pieces ended up being surprisingly productive down the stretch.

Colin Greening wound up scoring 15 points in his 30 Leaf games, with 13 coming at even strength. Those are great numbers from someone who was essentially a throw-in bottom six player. That’s nice production from a role player but it does stick out as a bright spot of Greening’s career.

His performance last year should have been good enough to earn a spot in the lineup on opening night, but the Leafs still have several decisions to make which leaves Greening in limbo.

In his first NHL stint with Ottawa in 2010-11, Greening potted six goals and totaled 13 points in 24 games. The following year would be his career best as he put up 17 goals and 37 points in a full 82 game schedule. He’s failed to crack 20 points since and spent all of last season with just one NHL game to his name before being traded to Toronto.

More of a salary dump than a reclamation project, he was just supposed to grease the wheels and help balance out Phaneuf’s cap hit but ended up raising some eyebrows in the season’s final months.

Greening did a fine job driving possession last season with the Leafs, finishing with a relative Corsi of plus-2.1 percent. Freed from AHL purgatory, he played with a renewed sense of urgency and used his big frame to work his way to the proverbial “dirty” areas; a skillset that actually earned him some power play time on the second unit.

To see whether or not Greening’s output looked sustainable headed into this season, I re-watched all of his plays that resulted in a point and categorized them into four groups: clean, rebound/tap in, tip/screen, and empty net for each of his goals and primary assists.

The goal categorization is fairly straightforward while the assist categorization refers to how the actual goal was scored rather than Greening’s own involvement in the play.

The assist categorization is meant to show whether or not Greening is getting carried by stronger teammates or tremendous luck.  If all of his assists came on tips or goals through screens it’d be far less comfortable to project another 0.5 point-per-game campaign from Greening.

On the other hand it’d be a promising sign if most of his assists come on clean plays where a good shot beats the goaltender or a nice passing sequence creates a goal.

So how did he fare?

ColinGreeningPoints

Here is a more detailed breakdown of all of Greening’s points from last season.

As it turns out, Greening generated the bulk of points by operating low in the offensive zone. Two of his primary assists came from parking himself at the net front and having the puck bounce to a fortunate teammate.

All but one of his primary assists came closer to the faceoff circles than the blue line. He’s not the most skilled guy on the ice but definitely knows where he needs to be.

There’s also the fact that several of Greening’s goals came as a result from strong plays and excellent passes from teammates, particularly William Nylander. He was gifted a few beautiful passes that gave him time and space in prime scoring areas.

He may have found a home alongside the top prospect last season, but will likely flank another player this season as Nylander moves to right wing alongside Auston Matthews.

Greening also played big minutes with Brooks Laich and Ben Smith. Laich is shaping up as his probable center in fourth line duty, though Peter Holland also makes a great deal of sense.

There were a few instances of dumb luck last season with guys being in the right place at the right time but he displayed a willingness to use his size and capitalize on close range opportunities.

While the nice bounces might not continue, crashing the paint seems like a repeatable attribute and something that the team will expect from the 30-year-old assuming he’s on the final roster.

All in all, Greening likely won’t churn out points like he did last year. He’ll be playing with less skilled teammates and will be hard pressed to benefit as much from good fortune. In describing his 2015-16, “sustainable” is probably not the word to choose.

While the scoring rate will dip, Greening does deserve credit for leveraging his physical advantages and putting himself in the right spots to clean up any junk in front of the crease. As a decent possession forward who can play up in the lineup in a pinch, Colin Greening should have a home in Toronto this year.

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