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.

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

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Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

The NFL's new helmet rule has caused confusion and frustration in the preseason.

Routine tackles in the past have been flagged, and players, media members and fans have voiced their concerns with what exactly will be a legal tackle come the regular season.

Enough with football. Could something like this come to hockey?

If Flyers legend Eric Lindros had his way, it would, and it would go a bit further too.

Lindros said last week at See The Light, a concussion conference at Western University in London, Ontario, that he would be in favor of eliminating body contact altogether.

Via the National Post:

“Let’s get right to it. You talk about me playing. I love hockey, and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny — the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical, and I have just as much fun [these days], but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it. We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”

Lindros clarified his position on Twitter, saying that he believes clean body contact still has a place in professional hockey.

Let’s unpack Lindros’ suggested rule change because there is a lot there for the hockey traditionalists to chew on. I’m sure we’ll see some in the comments section below.

Removing body contact from hockey would be a fundamental adjustment to a game that has a culture of being a tough, physical sport where hockey players notoriously play through injuries.

Hockey players have a reputation of being warriors, and they get celebrated for it. Heck, Ivan Provorov played Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh with a Grade 3 AC separation that requires eight weeks to heal. Wayne Simmonds played the entire year with more injuries than he could remember.

The toughness hockey players display on a nightly basis is admirable, but it’s also sometimes stupid. When it comes to concussions and head injuries, it’s especially dumb.

But removing body contact altogether seems extreme. If contact remains in the sport at higher levels and pro leagues, then proper body contact should be stressed in youth hockey. Perhaps limitations on contact would make sense. It's not a totally crazy idea for young players.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the NHL isn’t doing enough to address it. The league won’t even admit there’s a correlation. That’s a problem.

On Friday, the same day as Lindros’ suggested rule change, the NHLPA contributed a joint donation of $3.125 million toward concussion and brain injury research.

Lindros is one of several former hockey players who have been vocal about concussions and hockey, and understandably so. Concussions are very much part of Lindros’ legacy.

There are other ways to address concussions and the sport. It begins by admitting there is a link between CTE and hockey. The NHL has taken steps in protecting its players, but it can do more.

Headshots are penalized more seriously, but there remains inconsistency in the how NHL’s Department of Player Safety governs. That’s another area that should be addressed: more consistency.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the Olympics, European leagues and international tournaments, penalize all hits to the head. That would be an enormous step.

Let’s not get sidetracked by Lindros’ idea of removing body contact from hockey. Instead, let’s stay on the NHL to continue to do better in protecting its employees from serious brain injuries.

After all, NHL players do have families to go home to after work and lives to live after their playing days are over.

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Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

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