With Eric Perrin off to the Thrashers, seems as if Tampa Bay is trying to find some insurance for the fourth line beyond rookie Blair Jones and hip-challenged Tim Taylor, signing free agent left wings Craig MacDonald and Mathieu Darche to one-year, two-way contracts at the league minimum $475,000.
Likely they will start in AHL Norfolk, but both will be in training camp, so we'll see how that fourth-line competition goes. Remember, Tampa Bay also has the option of dropping Andreas Karlsson from a slotted third-line wing position to fourth-line center.
MacDonald, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, has played in 160 career NHL games with Carolina, Florida, Boston, Calgary and Chicago, recording eight goals and 22 points. He spent last season in the Blackhawks’ organization, skating in 25 games in Chicago while playing 50 games for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, where he served as captain. MacDonald, 30, scored three goals and recorded two assists with Chicago and tallied 15 goals with 40 points in Norfolk. MacDonald finished the season in Norfolk with a plus-9 rating, six power-play goals and four shorthanded goals.
“Craig is a veteran player with significant NHL experience who will be given every opportunity to make our hockey team,” GM Jay Feaster said. “He is a high-character guy who plays hard and competes every shift. He has very good hockey sense, is responsible defensively, is good on draws and is strong on his skates. He does all of the little things it takes to win hockey games and that makes him a good fit for us. He is also a leader at the AHL level and is exactly the kind of depth player we need to continue adding to our organization. We look forward to having him compete for a spot on our roster in camp.”
A native of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, MacDonald is a veteran of 313 AHL games, recording 76 goals and 221 points in seven seasons with New Haven, Lowell, San Antonio, Omaha and the Admirals. He also spent two seasons with Cincinnati of the IHL where he played in 160 games and tallied 32 goals and 84 points. MacDonald played collegiate hockey at Harvard, appearing in 66 games in two seasons with the Crimson, totaling 13 goals and 33 points. He was originally drafted by Hartford in the fourth-round, 88th overall, in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
Darche, a 6-1, 220-pound Montreal native, skated in 76 games with Worcester of the AHL and two games with the San Jose Sharks in 2006-07. The 30-year-old tallied 35 goals, 45 assists and 80 points with Worcester, leading the team in all three categories while finishing tied for sixth in goals and seventh in points in the AHL. In 436 AHL games with Syracuse, Milwaukee, Hershey and Worcester, Darche has recorded 162 goals and 342 points. He led Milwaukee in goals (28) in 2003-04 as he helped the Admirals capture the Calder Cup.
In 28 career NHL games with Columbus, Nashville and San Jose, Darche has recorded a goal and an assist. Before being signed as a free agent by Columbus in 2000, he played four seasons at McGill University in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union, leading the league in scoring in 1999-2000 with 72 points in 33 games.
“Mathieu is a prolific scorer and outstanding playmaker at the AHL level, and will get a chance to compete for a spot on our roster in camp,” Feaster said. “He has great vision and very good hands and he shows excellent poise with the puck. He works hard and competes consistently, and he continues to post big numbers at the minor league level. We simply don't have enough quality veteran depth players like Mathieu in our organization, and we are very pleased Mathieu recognizes the opportunity we present.
“Our scouting staff did an outstanding job identifying the depth players we wanted to target, and Claude Loiselle was relentless in pursuing good, solid contracts with both players. As a result, we are significantly better and deeper, organizationally, than we were prior to the start of free agency.”