TORONTO - Brian Burke said it best, as he often does.
"I would say it was decidedly quiet," the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager said after the NHL trade deadline had passed. "Lots of activity, but it's a low hum, you know? No big thunder claps."
Burke and his colleagues had moved plenty of freight on Wednesday, but no move on its own seemed like it could change a season. The Washington Capitals added plenty of veteran depth, while the Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes shed some of theirs, but the league's annual bazaar closed without one signature, marquee move.
Defenceman Tomas Kaberle remained with the Leafs. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was still employed by the Florida Panthers and Ray Whitney was, remarkably, still with the Hurricanes.
"It's challenging to try and find the space to fit players in, both roster-wise and financially," Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said in a conference call with reporters. "That, combined with the number of teams that are still in playoff races, I think made it a pretty difficult day to get much accomplished."
Washington acquired defenceman Joe Corvo from Carolina, with one report suggesting he would share the blue-line with Mike Green on the power-play. The Capitals also picked up forward Scott Walker from the Hurricanes, defenceman Milan Jurcina from Columbus and forward Eric Belanger from Minnesota.
Some of the most coveted players had been plucked from the market long before the deadline frenzy began. None were bigger than forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was shipped to the New Jersey Devils by the Atlanta Thrashers on Feb. 5, generating waves of headlines with word he had turned down a contract worth more than US$100-million to stay in Georgia.
That move came less than a week after Burke pulled the trigger on two deals to land established names. He acquired defenceman Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 31, shaking up his roster while signalling more change lie ahead.
Toronto shipped winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, and made a series of smaller moves in the final hours before the deadline. The Leafs flipped defenceman Martin Skoula - whom they had landed only hours earlier in the Ponikarovsky deal - to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round pick.
The Leafs made five moves in the 24 hours leading up to the deadline, but none were truly headline-worthy. It seemed to reflect the kind of day it had been, where a procession of role players and mid-level draft picks scrolled across the screens, and filled much of the debate on the networks committed to day-long coverage.
By the end of the day, a record 31 trades had been completed, moving 55 players around the league. The NHL's previous peak was 25 trades, which it hit three years' running, from 2006-08.
The Buffalo Sabres were not as busy as many of their Eastern Conference rivals, but they addressed a need for help on their top two lines, acquiring winger Raffi Torres from Columbus. Torres cost the Sabres defenceman Nathan Paetsch and a draft pick.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had already landed defenceman Jordan Leopold, and added Ponikarovsky for depth on an already stellar attack.
"I'm not trying to send a message," Penguins general manager Ray Shero told reporters. "What I'm trying to do is to give the team the best chance possible at success. We felt comfortable with what we gave up to get Leopold and Ponikarovsky was worth it. I'm just trying to put the best team I can on the ice and go from there."
The Phoenix Coyotes were one of the other busy teams, shipping forward Peter Mueller to Colorado for winger Wojtek Wolski. The team also added defencemen Derek Morris (Boston) and Mathieu Schneider (Vancouver) as well as winger Lee Stempniak (Toronto).
"We wanted to make a statement to our locker-room that we're serious about winning," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "We wanted to make a statement to our fan base that we're not fooling around here. We're serious, and we think we've given ourselves the chance to be a better team."
The Hurricanes fulfilled their role as sellers, off-loading the likes of Walker, Corvo and fellow defenceman Aaron Ward, who was sent to Anaheim for young goaltender Justin Pogge and a conditional fourth-round draft pick. Defenceman Andrew Alberts was sent to the Vancouver for a draft pick, while forward Stephane Yelle was moved to Colorado.
-With files from Chris Johnston