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If you evaluate the NHL's trade deadline simply by the final hours of (in)action, it was a decidedly unsexy day punctuated by mostly minor deals, with no real marquee names changing jerseys.

But history shows the sort of strategic tinkering that took place Monday can sometimes pay larger dividends in a long Stanley Cup run than individual superstar additions. And there were a few deals that made you stop and ponder.

The Anaheim Ducks, for example, added three defencemen – James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Simon Després from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Korbinian Holzer from the Toronto Maple Leafs, significant turnover for a team sitting first in the Pacific Division standings. But the Ducks wanted to get bigger on defence, and they wanted to do so at a price that made sense.

So Columbus had to accept Rene Bourque's contract to justify Anaheim taking on the final two years of Wisniewski's deal, while the Leafs received Eric Brewer in the Holzer deal. The Ducks are now eight deep on the blueline, prepared for the attrition that often accompanies a long playoff run, and in a division, the Pacific, that looks eminently winnable.

The Wisniewski deal nicely bookended the splashiest trade early on, when the Tampa Bay Lightning gave up a decent young defenceman, Radko Gudas, along with first– and third-round picks in the 2015 NHL entry draft to land defenceman Braydon Coburn from the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was a significant return for the Flyers for an asset they'd been talking about moving for some time, and marked the sixth first-rounder that changed hands during the run-up to the deadline, an extraordinary development considering how good the 2015 draft is supposed to be.

Tampa had an extra first-rounder on hand, received from the New York Rangers in last year's deadline blockbuster that saw Ryan Callahan join them in exchange for Martin St. Louis – and mitigated the loss slightly by acquiring a pair of second-round choices from the Boston Bruins for Brett Connolly earlier on.

After their talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs about defenceman Dion Phaneuf went nowhere, the Detroit Red Wings went for a cheaper option, adding defenceman Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils for a conditional third-round pick. Detroit also added some size up front, acquiring Erik Cole from the Dallas Stars, a trade consummated between Red Wings' general manager Ken Holland and his former assistant and close friend, Jim Nill.

But no one was dumping players overboard faster and harder than the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes, both of whom significantly strengthened other teams for their playoff pushes.

Arizona sent its best forward, Antoine Vermette, to the Chicago Blackhawks and its second-best defenceman, Keith Yandle, to the Rangers as part of sweeping changes that also pushed another quality defenceman, Zbynek Michalek, out the door, to the St. Louis Blues. Not be to outdone, the Sabres traded their No. 1 goalie, Michal Neuvirth, to the New York Islanders for back-up Chad Johnson, and dispatched forwards Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn to Montreal and Chris Stewart to Minnesota.

Yandle is one of the highest-scoring defencemen in the league, so the Rangers have shored up their one perceived weaknesses by adding a quality power-play quarterback.

Chicago is better, too, adding Vermette as well as Kimmo Timonen from Philadelphia. No one is going to replace the injured Patrick Kane, but Vermette gives the Blackhawks a versatile forward who can help Jonathan Toews in the faceoff circle. If Timonen gets up to game shape after missing the entire season because of an issue with blood clots, he is an excellent puck mover and will fit in well with coach Joel Quenneville's quick-strike offence.

Columbus also sent defenceman Jordan Leopold to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Justin Falk, noteworthy mostly because Leopold's 11-year-old daughter, Jordyn, had written a letter to the Wild back in December, asking them to trade for her dad because he was "very lonely without his family. I am lost without my dad and so is my mom, my 2 sisters and my brother.

"To get to the point, the Wild have not been winning games and you lovely coaches are most likely mad about that but your team needs some more D men so can you please, please, please ask the Jackets if you guys can get him?!"

Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen obliged and acknowledged part of the reason was to give "Jordan the opportunity to rejoin his family in the Twin Cities."

In all, the 24 deals that were made on deadline day reinforced the overall feeling in the NHL this year – that there isn't a clear-cut Stanley Cup favourite out there. But a dozen teams have a chance if everything falls right for them. Only six points separate the top six teams in the East, from No. 1 Montreal to No. 6 Pittsburgh, and the two best playoff teams in the West for the past three years, Chicago and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, look more vulnerable than usual.

Every contender will need good health, good matchups and good luck, but after examining the field, all sorts of teams decided they were prepared to mortgage the future for help today. There'll be buyers' remorse later. Today, everybody loves their chances.