Sanderson: NHL, NHLPA on verge of seriously damaging the league

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Sanderson: NHL, NHLPA on verge of seriously damaging the league

BOSTON -- Derek Sanderson knows all about regrets in the NHL.

The flashy Bruins center won a pair of Stanley Cups in Boston while exploding into a celebrity off the ice known for his irreverence and frolicsome lifestyle. But the Bs bon vivant also became the worlds highest-paid athlete for a time when he eschewed the NHL for the WHAs Philadelphia Blazers and a 2.6 million contract in 1972.

Unfortunately, things didnt work out . . . as often happens when somebody is simply chasing the money.   

Sanderson missed his Bruins teammates terribly and injuries kept him off the ice for Philly. Ultimately the Blazers bought him out of his pricey contract after he'd appeared in only eight games for them. The flamboyant Bs legend still lists the decision to sign with the WHA as the biggest regret of his entire hockey career, so he knows a thing or two about learning from mistakes.

Thats why Sanderson is concerned that his NHL is on its way to a monumental gaffe if Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr cant find a proper CBA agreement that will guarantee a 2012-13 regular season. At this point it will be a shortened campaign, which could be 64-68 games if they start on Dec. 1, and Sanderson thinks the NHL could live through such a still-possible scenario.

But all bets are off if they miss the whole season, as they did in 2004-05.

I think hockey will survive despite it all, but it could be a long time coming back if they do not have hockey this year, said Sanderson, who has been giving interviews over the last two weeks to promote his new autobiography Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Stories of a Hockey Original that was released in October. There might be trouble if they dont bring it back to the people soon in Hi-Def on TV.

For most people, theyre not actively looking for hockey until football is over. Once the NFL season is over, people are going to be asking, Wheres the Bruins? If you dont get it by Christmas and you dont let kids watch the games, then youre going to hurt the game.

Of greater concern to Sanderson and undoubtedly to many past generations of players who worship the game of hockey and the NHL are the two executives at the heart of the CBA negotiations. The Turk openly wonders how high the level of concern is about the NHL when its a pair of negotiators from outside the hockey world controlling the fate of this season and beyond.

I think hockey is the greatest game in the world. You cant say too much about the lockout. But I dont understand it, said Sanderson. Gary Bettman is a basketball guy and Donald Fehr is a baseball guy, isnt he? Why are they talking about hockey?

The owners had a great CBA the last time if they did it properly. Just dont frontload the contracts and sign guys to contracts for 10 or 15 years. Dont make those deals. But they did it to themselves and now theyre looking for something else.

The sports references point to Bettman's start as David Stern's right-hand man in the NBA, and Fehr's 25 years of service heading the Major League Baseball Players Association before joining up with the NHLPA.

Sanderson no longer has a direct stake in the game as he did when he was a player for the Bruins, Canucks, Penguins, Blues and Rangers, or when he served as the Bruins color analyst for more than 10 years. He now helps athletes manage their money as vice-president of a Boston-based company called Baystate Wealth Management, and tries to teach them about the past financial mistakes in his own life that once left him penniless.  

Sanderson is also hoping his words might help the NHL avoid repeating the mistakes of the 2004-05 lockout, which they seem hell-bent on doing to the dismay of many.

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.