It’s easy to look at Bill Cowley’s numbers and think he might be one of the greatest offensive NHL players ever, and certainly one of the league’s greatest passers.
But his best years came during World War II when a number of NHL players were in the military and so competition wasn’t as good. Also, Cowley sometimes wasn’t even the first line centre on his own team.
The question isn’t just, does Bill Cowley belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame? It’s how do we evaluate his gaudy numbers given when he played and his role when Milt Schmidt was on the team? And why did it take the Hall 20+ years to induct him?
Jean Beliveau is one of the rare NHL stars to combine regular season dominance with playoff dominance. Many of the centres who have scored more regular season points than Beliveau both haven’t done so relative to the league – Beliveau would have been the best offensive player of his era had it not been for Gordie Howe – and very few of them have Beliveau’s long history of success in the playoffs.
So where does he rank all time? Is he a Top 5 Centre? Is he a top 5 Player?
If you didn’t see him play, it’s possible Stan Mikita’s resume is better than you think it should be. In addition to winning multiple Hart trophies, Art Ross trophies and the Stanley Cup, he’s likely the 2nd best centre of the ’60s and among the best centres of the ’70s.
So it’s clear Stan Mikita belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The question is, where does Stan Mikita rank among centres all time?
Why is it that we (our generation anyway) have trouble thinking of Esposito as one of the greatest hockey players of all time? Is it because he was on the same team as Bobby Orr, whose legend has endured far better? Is it because of Esposito’s extraordinarily unathletic physique? Is it because everything he did has since been done multiple times by multiple players so those records feel less important?
Sure, Espo benefited from playing more games per season in the newly expanded league (someone was going to set records) and, yes, he benefited from playing with the Greatest of All Time, but lesser players wouldn’t have excelled the way he did, over such a long period of time.
Through a career riddled by injuries – including one induced retirement – Lemieux was one of the most dominant forwards the game has ever seen. He temporarily led the NHL in both career Goals Per Game and Points Per Game, despite debuting after Gretzky and despite playing more of his career in the Dead Puck Era.
But Lemieux never reached Gretzky’s accomplishments either in terms of his peak or his longevity. He has fewer scoring titles and Cups than Gretzky, and Gretzky achieved Lemieux’s offensive feats many times over.
Listen to us discuss whether or not Lemieux is the Greatest Hockey Player of All Time, the Greatest Centre of All Time, or something else, here: