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.