On Nov. 3, 2022, legendary Flyers coach and general manager Keith Allen was posthumously inducted into Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. A member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Flyers Hall of Fame, Mr. Allen passed away on Feb. 25, 2014.
A longtime AHL defenseman who spent parts of two NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1950s, the Saskatoon native is much better known for his accomplishments while working for the Flyers as its first coach and second general manager.
Allen was hired to guide the new expansion team at the behest of the Flyers general manager, Bud Poile. The two men knew each other well from their time together in Detroit’s minor league farm system, where Poile was a player-coach and Allen a veteran defenseman for the WHL’s Edmonton Flyers. Allen began his own coaching career in the late 1950s.
Prior to joining Philadelphia upon the Flyers’ creation, Allen spent ten years as the coach and general manager of the Seattle Totems. He led the team to the WHL title in 1958-59. As was common practice in the minor leagues, Allen filled a variety of other roles for the Totems while simultaneously juggling coaching and GM duties. He was also the team’s de facto marketing and ticket sales manager, oversaw public relations and served as its financial bookkeeper. In 1959-60, Allen became the first recipient of The Hockey News’ Minor League Executive of the Year award.
As Flyers coach, Allen had to work with a team that had a pair of talented young goaltenders in Bernie Parent and Doug Favell and its share of defensively responsible players but which severely lacked scoring pop, speed and size up front. He made the most of what he had, and the Flyers began a tradition of outworking more talented opponents.
The Flyers won the newly created Western Division in their inaugural 1967-68 campaign, establishing themselves as the best of the expansion teams during the regular season. Perhaps their most notable accomplishment was defeating each of the Original Six teams at least once that season. Allen helped hold the team together through a rough opening road trip and, even more challengingly, through a period in which the team had to rent out rinks for “home” games after a chunk of the roof blew off at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
In the Flyers’ first playoff series, the team engaged in a seven-game war with fellow expansion team St. Louis, coached by Scotty Bowman. The Blues, especially the notorious Plager brothers and Noel Picard, physically battered and abused the much smaller Flyers.
St. Louis would become the Flyers’ bitterest rival in the early years of their respective existence, knocking Philly out of the playoffs in both 1968 and 1969. The memories of being pushed around by the Blues played a major part in why the Flyers subsequently focused heavily on team toughness and built the roster than became known as the Broad Street Bullies.
In December 1969, Allen succeeded Poile as the Flyers general manager. It would be in this post that he would make his greatest impact on the franchise. Widely considered one of the best GMs in the history of the league, Allen’s teams compiled a 563-322-194 record (.612 winning percentage) and were the NHL’s best home team. The Flyers won consecutive Stanley Cups (1973-74 and 1974-75), reached the Stanley Cup Finals four times (1974, 1975, 1976, 1980) and established an NHL record 35-game unbeaten streak (25-0-10) during the 1979-80 season. He also crafted highly successful farm team rosters, especially during the years that the Maine Mariners were the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.
Over the course of Allen established an illustrious track record as a sharp talent evaluator, a shrewd trader (to the point that he became known as “Keith the Thief”) and a tough-but-fair contract negotiator. Allen was also known for being a man of his word and someone who cared about his players as human beings, which earned him everlasting respect from Flyers players.
Allen was succeeded as coach by Vic Stasiuk. In 1971, Stasiuk was fired. Allen convinced a somewhat reluctant Flyers owner Ed Snider to take a chance on hiring a maverick longtime minor league coach who had a shy and withdrawn manner about him but a track record of winning championships at hockey’s lower levels. The coach’s name was Fred Shero. Years later, Allen was instrumental in launching the successful coaching career of Pat Quinn as well as his eventual successor as Flyers GM, Bob McCammon.
In building the Flyers’ mini-dynasty of the mid-1970s, Allen presided over a series of excellent trades for the Flyers, made a host of smart drafting decisions and also knew whom to trust when it came to recommendations from scouts to sign undrafted players.
On the trade front, Allen’s most important deals were the reacquisition of Parent from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973, the acquisition of Reggie Leach from the California Seals in 1974 and a blockbuster 1982 trade with the Hartford Whalers for defenseman Mark Howe.
Other key players that Keith the Thief brought into the organization via trade included the likes of Rick MacLeish, Barry Ashbee, Andre “Moose” Dupont, Ross Lonsberry, “Cowboy” Bill Flett, Ross Lonsberry, Terry Crisp, Wayne Stephenson, Bob “the Count” Dailey, Brad Marsh and Brad “the Beast” McCrimmon.
In terms of his drafting acumen, Allen assembled a talented group of scouts in whom he placed his trust. Allen himself also had an eagle eye for talent. Among the notable players drafted during his GM tenure were Hall of Fame left winger Bill Barber, five-time NHL All-Star left winger Brian Propp, five-time NHL All-Star defenseman Jimmy Watson, Vezina Trophy winning goaltenders Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall, two-time NHL All-Star goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner (with Boston) Pete Peeters, standout offensive defenseman Tom Bladon, as well as feisty and talented Ken “the Rat” Linseman and flaky but naturally gifted offensive/physical defenseman Behn Wilson (an NHL All-Rookie team honoree in 1978-79 and an NHL All-Star game selection in 1980-81).
The list goes on and on. Other important players in Flyers history selected by Allen in the NHL Draft included an enviable number of two-way gritty forwards like Mel Bridgman and Ron Sutter, valuable checking forwards such as Bill Clement and Lindsay Carson, Czechoslovakian national team veteran defenseman Miroslav “Cookie” Dvorak and some of the most feared enforcers in the NHL including Paul Holmgren and Dave Brown.
Allen further supplemented the ranks of his drafted talents with numerous coups in signing undrafted rookie free agents who went to enjoy strong NHL careers in Philadelphia and elsewhere. The head of the class in that acquisition category were Tim Kerr, Dave Poulin, Ilkka Sinisalo, Orest Kindrachuk and Bob Froese.
On May 27, 1983, the Flyers made the decision to move the soon-to-be 60-year-old Allen out of the general manager job and appoint him in a senior advisory position in the front office. Flyers head coach McCammon was also appointed general manager. The move was made in order to keep McCammon in the organization, after he had received a competing offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins to become both its coach and GM.
McCammon was a successful AHL head coach but had only middling success an an NHL coach. He was, however, a gifted talent evaluator. Even before his appointment as GM, McCammon showed interest and skill in the player personnel selection end of the business.
During McCammon’s one-year tenure as GM/coach, Allen served as a consultant whenever “Cagey” called upon him (it was not Allen’s nature to be intrusive unless specifically asked for his advice). It should also be noted that the Flyers scouting department was still largely represented by Allen hirings and that McCammon was smart enough to trust both their recommendations and Allen’s considerable wisdom as well as his own judgment.
As such, Allen deserves at least a share of the credit for the team’s bumper crop of excellent Draft selections in 1983, which included the likes of Peter Zezel, Derrick Smith, Rick Tocchet and Pelle Eklund.
After McCammon was fired following the 1983-84 season, the Flyers hired Bob Clarke (who retired as an active player) as general manager. Clarke and Snider hired Mike Keenan as head coach. As with McCammon, Allen made himself available to Clarke whenever the new GM needed him, but otherwise let Clarke go about his business as Allen moved further and further into semi-retirement.
Allen has held the organization’s executive vice president title for many years. His role in team operations became increasingly honorary from the late 1980s onward, but he was still approached by Snider and others for his advice. He also remained close with a host of former Flyers players from the early days onward.
To this day, these now-retired players are grateful for things Allen did for them during and even after their Flyers career. One common practice of his during his GM days was to sign aging players to new contracts, with an understanding that his intention was to trade the player to a team where they could still play a role if the player wasn’t willing to accept a greatly reduced role with the Flyers.
In a time where most NHL players didn’t make big money during their careers — and the league pension plan left something to be desired — Allen’s parting gift to his loyal soldiers was helping them find ways to prolong their careers a little further. The final Flyers contract and handpicked trade was a way of saying thank you.
Over the years, Allen also went to bat for many former players to find NHL jobs with the Flyers or elsewhere after their playing days were over. Snider has always been very good about this as well, and it’s one part of the reason why it is not a platitude when the Flyers are referred to as a “family”. Not all NHL organizations operate that way.
In 1988, Allen was honored with the Lester Patrick Trophy for his services in the development of hockey in the United States. Along with Ed Snider and Bill Barber, Allen was inducted into Flyers’ Hall of Fame in March of 1989. On Sept. 21, 1992, Allen received the ultimate honor when he was inducted into the Builders wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Saskatchewan native made his permanent home in Bryn Mawr, PA, for many years. He is survived by wife Joyce, children Brad, Blake and Traci, and grandchildren Chelsea, Shay, Jillian, and Chase.
Keith Allen was in poor health in the final few years of his life. He suffered from a form of dementia and was placed in the Sunrise Senior Living facility in Newtown Square in order to receive full-time care. In late 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi visited Allen at the facility and wrote a poignant and moving article that emphasized Allen’s class, dignity and charm rather than a maudlin description of the ravages of his illness.
Without Allen, the entire history of the Philadelphia Flyers and the post-1967 path of the NHL would likely have been very different. More importantly, in his 90 years on earth, Keith Allen attained the sort of professional and personal success, and earned a level of admiration and respect for which most folks can only dream.