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How to end the NHL lockout

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Washington Capitals defenceman Roman Hamrlik is my kind of guy: he speaks his mind, and it turns out to be the wrong thing to say and the wrong time to say it.

With the NHL lockout in its 10th week, Hamrlik expressed his disgust at the loss of a quarter of the season -- $425 million -- and asked who will give that money back to the players? Donald Fehr, the executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association? Hamrlik was quickly shot down by Canadiens left winger Erik Cole, who called Hamrlik's comments selfish and disappointing.

Hamrlik speaks from experience. He has played more games than any other active (if I can still use that word) NHL player. And this is his third lockout.

You'd think he'd be used to the drill by now.

No question there's a lot of money at stake in the NHL lockout. So much money that it appears there isn't enough for everyone.

The size of that mountain of cash was brought home to me last week when I attended the Goals for Dreams charity hockey game, featuring a number of NHL and Winnipeg Police Service players. The event raised $80,000 for charity.

Eighty-grand seems like a pretty good chunk of change. And to the Dream Factory and the Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, I trust it was a welcome donation. But as I watched the on-ice cheque presentation before the game I couldn't help but think that $80,000 would have looked like a whole lot more money in almost any other setting.

According to news reports, annual NHL revenue amounts to $3.3 billion. That's 41,250 of those big, $80,000 cardboard cheques.

How big was the cheque, physically? I don't know, but between the cops on skates and the cops in shoes I doubt I would've got close enough to measure it. Let's assume it was the neighbourhood of 2.5 by six feet.

If you had 41,250 such cheques, you could cover the surface of 36 of the city of Winnipeg's 39 ice rinks.

In fact, if you wanted to present every one of those cheques and you took five minutes per cheque to thank the organizers and the fans and the participants, and worked eight hours a day with no breaks, seven days a week, and you started at the Goals for Dreams charity game time on Nov. 17, 2012, you'd finish up over a year later on Jan. 21, 2014.

Now, I'm not suggesting that local well-run charities should receive billions of dollars instead of relative peanuts.

OK, I am suggesting it but I don't expect it to happen.

It's just that there's something a little screwy about a society in which a bunch of hard-working volunteers put in countless hours doing thankless work to stage just one 60-minute game and raise the same amount of money that a single top-level player can earn in just one 60-minute game.

There's an NHL lockout right now because not enough money is in the "right" hands (now or in the future). And because there's an NHL lockout there are lot of non-players out of work as well; unlike the NHL superstars, a lot of these are folks who can't afford to be out of work for a couple of months, never mind a year.

To a limited extent this imbalance exists within the NHLPA too. It's easy to moan about millionaire players fighting billionaire owners over money handed to them by working stiffs, but it does take a lot of time and hard work and no small amount of money to get to the NHL.

A few years ago, The Hockey News quoted the parents of Chicago Blackhawks player Patrick Kane as having spent $144,000 on young Pat's hockey development. Of course there's no guarantee of payback for parents who go that far; only something like five per cent of major junior and college hockey players make it to the NHL.

And what if you do make it to the big league? Last year, the minimum NHL salary was $525,000, which seems like a lot of coin. According to HockeyQuant.com, history shows that 20 per cent of NHL players play just one season. If you only get a one-year run, after taxes and your agent's cut and a little something for your always-supportive parents and their $144,000 investment, maybe it's not such a big payday after all.

If this was your year to make the NHL, and an injury ends your career while you're waiting for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Fehr to make a deal, then you get bupkes.

So here's my formula for ending the lockout: Take every player's salary, and assign them a number of votes equal to the highest NHL salary (including bonuses) divided by their own salary.

Nashville's Shea Weber signed on the dotted line for $14 million over the 2012-2013 season. So Weber gets one vote.

A player getting the minimum salary gets 14,000,000 divided by 525,000 equals 27 votes rounded up. And every NHL proposal goes to the players for a vote.

Let's see how long the lockout lasts then.

David Harms is a Winnipeg publisher and consultant who wonders whose idea it was to pronounce Donald Fehr's last name so it sounds like 'fear' instead of 'fair'.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 A14

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