Philadelphia Flyers

'Keith the Thief' was more than just a GM

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'Keith the Thief' was more than just a GM

They called him “Keith the Thief.”

It was a title bestowed upon Keith Allen by the Philadelphia media in the 1970s and the Flyers general manager wore it with every bit of pride as that famous, flaming orange jacket that he insisted on being photographed in.

This is how Keith Allen, the greatest general manager in Flyers history, earned the nickname with these trades:

• Darryl Edestrand and Larry McKillop to Hershey for Barry Ashbee.

• Mike Walton to Boston for Rick MacLeish and Danny Schock.

• Serge Bernier, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Lesuk to Los Angeles for Bill Flett, Ed Joyal, Ross Lonsberry and Jean Potvin.

• Brent Hughes and Pierre Plante to St. Louis for Andre Dupont and a third-round pick.

• Potvin and a future player to the Islanders for Terry Crisp.

• A first-round pick and future considerations (Doug Favell) to Toronto for the rights to re-acquire Bernie Parent and a second-round pick.

• Larry Wright, Al MacAdam and a first-round pick to California for Reggie Leach.

And that’s just the trades.

We haven’t talked about the players he drafted. Such as Bill Barber, Bill Clement, Jimmy Watson and Tom Bladon.

Or the crucial checking-line free agent center he signed in Orest Kindrachuk.

Take a good look at the names above because just about every one of them formed the Flyers’ two Stanley Cup rosters in 1974 and 1975.

Oh, Allen also convinced club chairman Ed Snider to take a gamble on a very successful coach in the minor ranks named Fred Shero, who Snider admitted he had never heard of before the Flyers hired him in 1971 on pure “gut” instinct, Allen would later say.

“One of the best general managers of all time,” Bob Clarke said on Tuesday night upon hearing of Allen’s passing at the age of 90.

He had lived most of his retirement years in Florida and was especially fond of Marco Island.

Parent and Clarke may have been the two Flyers in history most responsible for the two Cups on the ice, but without question, Allen was the genius behind the scenes, willing to take risks and make judgment calls based on little more than first-hand accounts minus formal scouting reports.

What he left behind was the legacy upon which the Flyers built their hockey empire in Philadelphia.

He started with the Flyers even before they were officially awarded a franchise, coached the team through 1969-70, then succeeded Bud Poile as general manager.

As Flyer historian Jay Greenberg pointed out, in the 14 years Allen sat in the GM chair, seven of his clubs reached the league semifinals while amassing 100 points. Meanwhile, 13 of his players would appear in the Cup Final.

“Keith Allen always found a way to bring exceptional talent to Broad Street and weave it into the fabric of a team that would succeed and endure at the highest level, because in Philadelphia, for his Flyers and their fans, no other level was acceptable,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“The National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Keith's family, to his friends and to the Flyers organization, which has lost one of its patriarchs.”

Allen was elected to the NHL Hall of Fame’s “Builders Category” in 1992.

“Keith was the first coach in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers and a man for whom I have tremendous respect,” Snider said.

“In my mind, he was and always will be one of the greatest general managers in the history of hockey. He was known as 'Keith the Thief.' I never knew of a bad deal he made.

“This team would never have reached the level of success we have had over the past 48 years if it were not for Keith.”

Funny thing is, every player who played for him, idolized him.

“Keith was one of those men you rarely come across who was fatherly, grandfatherly to all of us players and families,” Clarke said. “And yet was tough enough and strong enough to do the things that were necessary so that we had the right players to win a Stanley Cup.

“Every player who ever played under his leadership liked Keith. Everybody traded liked Keith. One of the few men in hockey, and maybe the only man, who everybody liked. Didn’t have a person who disliked him in the world. A wonderful, wonderful man.”

His personality was such that Allen often referred to the beat reporters covering his team as “his boys.”

In the formative years leading up to and surpassing the Flyers' two Cups, Allen developed close personal bonds with those who covered his team. They weren’t house men, but Allen treated them like insiders.

“Come to the bar, boys, we’ve got something to talk about,” he would say as the beat reporters joined him.

On more than one occasion, Allen would talk about the team and potential moves he might make, with the understanding it was off the record.

You don’t find that kind of trust among GMs and reporters these days, but it existed back then.

Quite simply, Keith Allen was a man who trusted himself and his judgment about people in and even around the game of hockey, above all else.

It’s why the Flyers won and were able to create a legacy of winning that endures to this day.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up