Why the Maple Leafs probably won’t chase Senators’ Greening, even if the deal is ‘sweetened’

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

There probably isn’t enough Splenda in the nation’s capital to induce the Toronto Maple Leafs to take on Colin Greening’s contract. Now maybe if the Ottawa Senators offered the Maple Leafs some (Colin) White sugar, that would move the needle, but let’s be realistic.

Greening, 29, isn’t a bad player. He’s big, and he’s a more than capable fourth liner. I once watched him eat two slices of pizza at once, sandwich style, as team doctors removed fibreglass from his cheek following a double overtime winner back in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was bad ass, and probably unduly colours my opinion of him.

The useful, Newfoundland-born left wing has been on the trade block forever, mostly because he’s unlikely to ever produce enough offense to warrant the big ticket he carries. Now it is being reported that the always budget-conscious Senators are willing to throw a prospect into a Greening deal, just in order to free themselves of the remaining two years carried by Greening’s contract, at a $2.65 million cap hit.

Storied rivalry and the ghost of Gary Roberts aside, for a team with an unlimited budget, lots of salary cap space, and a strong willingness and desire to accumulate talent – the Maple Leafs make sense as a Senators trade partner here, right? Wrong. And here’s why:

Let’s start by breaking down the latest on Greening’s situation, which TSN’s Darren Dreger reported during an Insider Trading segment on TSN on Tuesday night:

They’ll sweeten (a potential deal in order to move Collin Greening), including throwing a prospect from the Ottawa Senators organization into the mix. Now (Senators GM) Bryan Murray has been trying to move Collin Greening for quite some time. This isn’t a new development here, and the reason he hasn’t been traded primarily is because of his contract. He is a 2.6 million dollar cap-hit this year, has another year remaining, but if the prospect is worthwhile he might draw some interest finally.

A $2.65 million cap hit for this year and next is tough enough to swallow for a physical forward with limited offensive value, but the contract is actually worse than that. In terms of his actual salary, Greening is due $2.75 million this year and $3.25 million in 2016-17. He also has a modified no-trade clause. 

I rate Greening’s two-way game as legitimately NHL quality, but there’s no way around the fact that his is a gruesome ticket. 

On a superficial level, the Maple Leafs make some sense as a Senators trade partner here. We’ve seen the Brendan Shanahan regime willingly leverage the club’s deep pockets to maximize their return in deals (like when they made the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Daniel Winnik completely cap neutral), and obviously the Maple Leafs remain in accumulation mode.

Toronto also has a good deal of cap space, and could easily stomach the $2.65 million hit that Greening comes attached to (or the $1.7 million hit the club would maintain on the roster if they elected to send Greening in an Uber Black down to Ricoh Coliseum). 

If you’re a big budget team like the Maple Leafs, you should always be looking to find ways to legally ‘purchase’ players from the NHL’s financial small fries. This would seem to be one such opportunity. 

Now before I talk myself into this, why shouldn’t the Maple Leafs get involved?

In explaining why I’d be gobsmacked if the Maple Leafs were to get involved – and this is based on no inside information, just reading between the lines of how the Shanahan regime has conducted business – it all goes back to the Michael Grabner deal. Remember when the Maple Leafs traded five fringe prospects for a middle-six forward? It was a remarkably telling deal, as we wrote at the time:

This is the most radical expression yet of their increasingly obvious plan to leverage their incomparable budget to supplement a program of short-term trade market speculation, using veteran assets. In addition to Grabner – who as previously mentioned, fits the bill – the club now has additional standard player contract (SPC) slots with which to sign one of Brad Boyes or tanking talisman Curtis Glencross.

It comes down, likely, to an organizational judgement concerning how to most efficiently use their 50 SPC slots. And the club has now indicated clearly – and very radically, considering the way we’re used to seeing NHL teams operate – that they’d rather use those slots on potentially useful veteran pieces that can be swapped for additional futures when the price of short-term help gets bloated at the trade deadline, as opposed to saving those slots for fringe prospects who may (or more likely will not) develop into NHL players.

The Maple Leafs have already made it plain that they don’t value middling prospects highly enough to warrant the use of one of their 50 contract slots. The club’s strange decision to sign Rich Clune aside, it sure seems like this organization would rather have a veteran piece that they might flip at the deadline than a 20-year-old like Nick Paul. 

Now, perhaps Mark Hunter and company are high enough on a piece like 2015 second-round pick Filip Chlapik – despite his disappointing start to the QMJHL season – to warrant this sort of move. And Toronto could always use Greening to bolster the Marlies’ Calder Cup chances this season, then install him on the fourth-line next year in the hopes of dealing him to a contender in a retained salary transaction prior to the 2016 NHL trade deadline. 

It could make sense, particularly if the Senators were to take back an equal number of standard player contracts. I’m highly skeptical that the prospect on offer from the Senators organization would be attractive enough to the Maple Leafs to warrant this sort of commitment in financial and managerial resources though.

Short of the aforementioned White, who is lighting up the NCAA as a freshman and is absolutely not available, it’s hard to see how the juice would be worth the squeeze for the Maple Leafs in this instance.

  • Gary Empey

    Colin Greening was waived back in January. He went unclaimed at that time because of his salary. Eating this much salary could limit Toronto’s ability to make a good deal at the trade deadline.

    For a deal to happen it would have to be a good young prospect Toronto could use for their rebuild.

    What do you think of TOBIAS LINDBERG.

    Talent Analysis

    Tobias Lindberg is a big, strong winger with excellent passing skills, and a heavy, accurate shot. He also has the capacity to play in every game situation. As a member of the Oshawa Generals last season, he adapted wonderfully to the team’s smothering 200-foot game and helped to shut down big-time scorers like Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome in the OHL finals. Has the potential to become a second-line winger at best, or a third-line checker that can chip in offensively.

  • FlareKnight

    Agree with this completely. It’s nice to get prospects and all, but you need quality not quantity. Now if you could do somthing like greening and a first rnd pick for a second or third, That would make sense for the leafs. Maybe not so much for the sens

    • silentbob

      You’re right, quality is important with prospects. 1 prospects like Nylander is worth more then 3-4-5 prospects like Leipsic or Johnson, but not every prospects needs to be Nylander. And prospects are a numbers game as well. Roughly 20% of prospects become NHL players. The more prospects you have the more players that group is going to yield.

      IF the Leafs can get a prospect they like and/or a pick in the top 60 in return for taking Greening for this year and next…..they’d be stupid not to do it. Its not like Greening has 5 years left on his contract will eventually become an issue for the Leafs as well. He’ll be gone long before they are in a position to turn things around and be competitive.

  • Javid

    3 mil for two years is not that bad when you consider we’ll be selling at the deadline. Obviously the prospect/pick has to be worthwhile, but it’s not like it’s a Clarkson 2.0

  • Javid

    Why would the Leafs take on Greening? They already have bas contracts on their hands they’re trying to get rid of with the likes of Phaneuf, Lupul & Bozak. Why add another just to get a muddling Prospect in return? Makes absolutely no sense

  • Jeremy Ian

    Greening is the means, not the ends. So it entirely depends on what the Sens offer as the prospect. Leafs management should certainly be pushing Murray’s budget-anxieties to the limit to see what they can squeeze (just to keep the juice metaphor alive) out of him. If it’s not enough, walk away. Simple as that.

    But to rule out the options at this stage would be a mistake.

  • FlareKnight

    It’s all about getting enough quality. The Leafs moved a ton of middling prospects out this summer in the Grabner trade. They don’t need middling prospects. Hunter is good enough to find plenty in any given draft. It has to make sense.

    If Ottawa is desperate enough to throw in enough value then sure go for it. We’re not competing soon. But…it has to be enough.