Born in 1912, Bill Cowley was one of the greatest play makers of his era. After solid numbers on a variety of teams in his late teens and early 20s, Cowley joined the NHL’s St. Louis Eagles for the 1934-35 season, who had just moved from Ottawa. While the Eagles were miserable, they did allow Cowley to get a start in the NHL. After they folded at the end of the season, Cowley was picked up by the Bruins and the legend began. Cowley improved notably from 12 to 21 points and played all 48 games instead of just 41 like the season prior.
Cowley had another drastic improvement in the following season, 1936-37, as his play making ways started to shine. He scored 13 goals, but also added 22 assists for 35 points in 46 games, leading the Boston Bruins. After another measured improvement in the 1937-38 season, Cowley broke through in the 1938-39 season, scoring 8 goals and 34 assists for 42 points in just 34 games. While Cowley finished third in the NHL in scoring, the two players ahead of him had many more games and everyone know that Cowley likely would’ve beaten them given the same advantage. Cowley helped the Bruins win their second Stanley Cup in history at the end of the 1939 season.
Forming a deadly 1-2 punch with Milt Schmidt, Cowley scored another 40 points in the 1939-40 season, finishing 4th in the league. Despite the strong season, it was notably worse than the one prior, in which Cowley had more points in 14 less games. Cowley shut his critics up with his 1940-41 season.Playing in 46 games, he scored 17 goals and added a whopping 45 assists for a league leading 62 points. The 45 assists smashed the previous record set by Joe Primeau (37). To put Cowley’s season into perspective, the second place in the point race was 5-way tie with 44 points, a whole 18 behind Cowley. Cowley topped off his dominant season in the best way possible, with a Stanley Cup victory, Boston’s second in three years. At the end of the season, Cowley won the Hart Trophy, barely beating out teammate Dit Clapper.
After a poor 1941-42 season in which Cowley played only 28 games, Cowley exploded again with another 45-assist season to lead the NHL. This time, Cowley added a career-best 27 goals for an incredible 72 points. However, at this point, the NHL, now with a 50-game season, had become a much more offensive league and 72 points was only good enough for 2nd in the league next to Doug Bentley. That said, Cowley played in two less games than Bentley, suggesting that he may have beaten him had he played a full 50-game season. Cowley was awarded his second Hart Trophy at the end of the season.
The 1943-44 season saw arguably the most dominant offensive season in history to this point from Cowley, but he was unfortunately unable to play often enough as he only played in 36 of the 50 games. Despite his shortened season, Cowley scored a stunning 30 goals and 41 assists for 71 points, nearing two points per game, a level only previously reached by players in the 1910s of the NHL. Cowley finished at 7th in the NHL in points, but the league recognized his incredible season and he was 2nd in the Hart voting to only Babe Pratt, who had an outstanding season himself.
Cowley had another strong season in the 1944-45 season, proving his longevity over players in the eras past. At 32 years of age, he was still dominant scoring 25 goals and adding 40 assists for 65 points in 49 games, good for 4th in the league. Cowley finished third in Hart voting. After another injury-prone 1945-46 season in which he played only 26 games and managed 24 points, Cowley finished his career in the 1946-47 season with 38 points in 51 games (the league now had 60-game seasons). In that season, he passed Syd Howe on the all-time points list. Cowley retired with 548 points in 549 games and his grasp on the all-time lead held firm until Elmer Lach surpassed him five years later. Lach also passed Cowley’s assist record in that same season. Cowley was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1968.