Fire Ants Looking Forward to SICHLXXby Brother Lee Love | October 30, 2017, 12:04 PM ET
Coming off their second Continental Cup victory and an enjoyable but fairly unproductive draft, the Fire Ants were once again a team without a clear sense of direction. Lacking depth at forward and losing most of their defensive corps to free agency, it looked like it might finally be time for the Ants to rebuild. Like last season, however, the assets they had to sell off were few and drawing little interest from other GMs.
Trapped between mediocrity and madness, GM Norm Donovan once again chose madness. Donovan, normally quite miserly during free agency, unleashed hell upon his bank account. $4M for Antoine Vermette? Easy. $7.5M for Travis Zajac? No problem. $12M for Duncan Keith? A pittance! When the dust had settled, the Ants had shelled out almost $14M in signing bonuses and their payroll had ballooned to well over $80M. They had brought in a mercenary crew on defence – most signed to expensive one year contracts – to fill the top 5 spots. Pricey contracts were given to depth forwards to round out their bottom six.
“I warned the GMs last year that if they don’t trade with me when I’m trying to rebuild, it just forces me to compete,” said Donovan, “You would have thought they’d have learned that lesson by now. If one of these brainless dopes had given me a first and second round pick for Okposo and Kulikov at the draft, I would have sat out most of free agency and slunk quietly into the fringes of playoff contention.”
Recapping the many off-season changes to the roster:
IN, THEN OUT – Zbynek Michalek
Although the defence has suffered from some obvious confusion as they tried to gel as a unit, the Ants did reasonably well in the pre-season. Tuukka Rask in particular was in top form, which hopefully will carry into the regular season. Despite a number of teams beefing up their teams, the Ants remain one of the top contenders in the World Conference – on paper at least.
Pavelski – Stamkos – Okposo
Marchessault – Zajac – Hoffman
Zucker – Cullen – Kulemin
Flynn – Vermette – Lewis
Keith – Hainsey
Green – Gorges
Garrison – Tanev
Rask – Kaskisuo
Rumours abound that one of the defencemen – likely Garrison – are being shopped for a depth forward or backup goaltender. Playoff hero Andrew “Al” Hammond has been inexplicably relegated to the minor leagues, but Donovan is said to be wary of relying on the untested Kasimir Kaskisuo in the event of an injury to Tuukka Rask.
Shea Theodore has 11 points in 8 games, leading all AHL defencemen.
Drake Batherson is the top-scorer in the QMJHL with 29 points in 16 games.
Significant pre-season injuries to Mike McLeod and Sergei Boikov will keep both out of action for weeks.
Zach Fischer left his WHL team for “personal reasons” and was promptly traded to Spokane, where he’s got 5 points in 5 games.