Best: Brad Richards
Bowman’s best year of summer free agency had to be 2014. In addition to nabbing Darling, he also acquired veteran Richards on a low-cost deal. Richards was (and still is) being paid a large buyout from the New York Rangers, so he was willing to play cheaply for somewhere he could win immediately.
And he did just that in Chicago. Serving as the best second-line center the Blackhawks had ever been able to give Kane (prior to Artem Anisimov), Richards tallied 37 points in 76 regular-season games before adding 14 more in 23 Stanley Cup Playoffs contests.
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Richards wasn’t the fastest or the youngest guy by a long stretch, but he was at least someone effective enough to make sure Kane would have more opportunities to carry the puck and produce points. Richards was a critical piece to Chicago’s success in 2014-15 before moving on for one final NHL season, that with the Detroit Red Wings.
Worst: Viktor Tikhonov
This last spot on my main list (there will be special mentions) was a toss-up between Tikhonov in 2015 and Nikolai Khabibulin in 2013. I wound up giving the nod to Tikhonov because the team and fans probably expected more from him than from the washed-up Bulin Wall.
Tikhonov, the grandson of the famed Soviet Union hockey coach of the same name, was drafted by Phoenix in 2008. He spent all of 61 games in the NHL before moving back to Russia to compete in the KHL.
Tikhonov wasn’t ballyhooed as some godsend signing in 2015 with Chicago, but he had proven himself entirely capable overseas. Tikhonov maxed out at 34 points in 52 regular-season games and 18 points in 15 postseason games during single seasons. So the hope was he could be a fine bottom-six addition.
That never came to fruition in Chicago. Coach Joel Quenneville never seemed to get comfortable with Tikhonov, who quickly grew into being the guy who was around to translate for fellow newcomer Panarin. Tikhonov didn’t score in 11 games with Chicago before being placed on waivers, and he’s now back in Russia once more.
Who knows anymore: Michal Rozsival (2012)