By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - After a quiet start, the National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline day came alive with a flurry of deals at the final buzzer on Wednesday as teams made final preparations for a Stanley Cup run.
A total of 17 deals involving 30 players and 14 draft picks were consummated, most coming moments before the 3:00 p.m. deadline, saving what was shaping up as deadline day dud for Canada's three all-sports TV networks that had dedicated an entire day's programming to tracking trades.
While the number of trades was the highest since 31 deals were reached in 2010, the number of players that swapped teams was the lowest total since 21 were moved at the 1996 deadline.
"I had a sense there wouldn't be that much activity because of the uniqueness of the season and there really wasn't," said Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, who was trying to trade Olympic gold medal winning netminder Roberto Luongo. "It was tough to make trades today.
"It's a very competitive environment and I think that is why you didn't see a whole lot happen."
The New York Rangers, in a bold move to shake up their sagging fortunes, pulled off the day's biggest shocker, shipping sniper Marian Gaborik, who has scored 30 or more goals in seven of his 12 seasons, to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with defensmen Steven Delisle and Blake Parlett.
In return, the Rangers received center Derick Brassard, young defenseman John Moore and forward Derek Dorsett, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone.
"I was surprised. I had heard rumors here and there but I didn't focus on it," said Gaborik.
"I enjoyed my time in New York, of course. But when somebody's trying to trade you, it's good that somebody actually wants you on their team."
The Rangers, rated a Stanley Cup contender going into the lockout-shortened season, have underperformed and sit two points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the Blue Jackets have exceeded expectations and are one point out of a playoff berth in the West.
The Buffalo Sabres, who earlier in the week sent defenseman Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues and Robyn Regehr to the Los Angeles Kings for draft picks, continued their rebuild by shipping captain Jason Pominville to the Northwest division-leading Minnesota Wild for draft picks and prospects.
The Philadelphia Flyers, another team expected to challenge for a Stanley Cup but sitting six points out of a playoff spot, continued their seemingly never-ending search for goaltending by swapping netminders with the Blue Jackets.
Going to Philadelphia is former NHL rookie of the year Steve Mason while Columbus gets Michael Leighton and a third round selection in the 2015 draft.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who had been active in the trade market all week by acquiring Calgary Flames captain and former-scoring champion Jarome Iginla, Dallas Stars forward Brenden Morrow and San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray, landed veteran forward Jussi Jokinen from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Jokinen, with six goals and five assists, provides the Penguins a little insurance as captain and NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby recovers from a broken jaw.
The buildup to deadline day had been fueled by months of endless speculation over which players could be on the move.
The NHL promoted the day as one of the most-anticipated dates on the calendar with the action available across all the leagues multi-media platforms.
But the deadline day lost much of its buzz when a number of bigger names changed teams in the weeks leading up to deadline.
The quiet start to the day left an army of TV personalities and analysts at Canada's all-sports networks scrambling to fill air time as the hours ticked by without any movement.
TSN, Canada's top-rated all-sports network, offered 10 hours of live coverage with correspondents manning NHL arenas across North America.
Trade deadline day has grown into a money-spinning property for all the networks, TSN counting BlackBerry, Molson Coors and Tim Hortons among its advertisers.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)