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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dave Ergsan: Hockey’s Red John

We all remember where we were when the shots of Patrick Jane’s handgun went off into the stomach of a one Timothy Carter, the man who is better known as Red John. There we were, stuck in silent shock knowing that California’s most notorious- and most elusive serial killer since The Zodiac was no more, offed in dramatic fashion after the personal crusade of a retired psychic (a psychic whose fraudulent behaviour Carter himself exposed). The subsequent trial was also one for the ages, gripping the nation as details of Jane’s travails with the California Bureau of Investigation to facilitate his personal manhunt became known. The trial- one lengthy year ended with Jane’s acquittal due to temporary insanity and self-defence- would have made fodder for countless movies and specials, and indeed inspired Bruno Heller to create a (largely mythological) series, The Mentalist, based on Jane’s exploits. Now that Jane has remade himself into a successful detective (there are even rumours that the renowned Behavioural Analysis Unit is courting Jane), it allows Jane to continue serving for the greater good, his mastery able to come out unburdened.

Perhaps, now that he’s caught the serial killing Red John, he might be able to catch hockey’s Red John, the reviled monster who owns the Buffalo Sabres known as Dave Ergsan, who effectively represents automaker Fiat’s stake in the Sabres. It’s been said that Ergsan is, in fact, human, but such a characterization is impossible given all that we know about him.

Oh yeah, I know what you’re going to say…I heard it the last time I wrote about Ergsan…“Dave’s not evil! He cares about the fans and about winning!” (The fact that I still get these E-Mails must mean that Sabre fans are the most gullible in the world). Then you’ll point to the four Stanley Cups won from1999 to last year, generating a culture of winning absent in the franchise since its Gilbert Perrault glory days, as well as the fact that Sabre tickets have remained at market value since Ergsan took over in 1993. You’ll think you’ll have an unassailable argument and you’ll watch as I cower in the corner, the pesky journalist with a vendetta finally beaten.

Except for the small fact that I already know these things. Do you really think I’d write this article not expecting to have a rebuttal for those utterly retreaded arguments?

You see, to paraphrase the great Patrick Jane, as I pointed out the last time I wrote about Ergsan, “he doesn’t have fans. He has tools.” Everything about Ergsan is not about genuine compassion for the fans or even for the game- it’s all about feeding his deep-rooted narcissism, because if he had a crappy team with angry fans it would be bad PR for him.

Just how evil is this guy? I feel like I shouldn’t have to recap this, but you guys…

o   Everyone remembers just how good the 1992-93 Buffalo Sabres team was. They were a few pieces from a championship, but, because this wasn’t a team that Ergsan himself built, in the 1994 off-season he ordered fan favourites Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine to be traded. When John Muckler, the General Manager at the time, refused to do so, Ergsan went above his GM and traded the players himself. Yes, part of the package netted Michael Peca, a key player in the 1999 Cup run, but Ergsan showed a lack of respect for Muckler, and it wouldn’t be the first time he would bully the very people he employs.
o   This wouldn’t be the end for Muckler. Oh no…a few weeks later, Muckler would be canned, but not before Ergsan invited him to dinner, ordered over $30,000 of food and left Muckler with the tab, conveniently putting Muckler in debt.
o   When Buffalo News reporter Jim Kelley accused Domonik Hasek of choking him during the 1996 playoffs, Ergsan had the gall to state that “Kelley put on an Oscar-winning performance” and sued the newspaper for libel. Despite the overwhelming physical evidence- the incident was filmed- Ergsan managed to win the lawsuit, costing the newspaper hundreds of thousands of dollars and forcing it into bankruptcy. I find it amazing that I still get fans insisting that Ergsan won the case fairly and didn’t use any kind of bribes- really, guys are you that naïve?
o   Rumours have dogged the Sabres for years concerning faulty accounting practices. Apparently a favourite trick is one borrowed from Italian soccer- plusvalenze, where a player’s value is artificially inflated by a number of means (usually by buying and selling him a number of times)- so that the Sabres can claim lower profits and valuable deductions on their taxes. Since the Sabres aren’t ones to voluntarily open their books, and Erie County is strangely silent on the matter (gee, I wonder why), the only evidence here is anecdotal, allowing Ergsan to (so far) escape prosecution, even though questions continue to be raised about how Buffalo’s profit margins seem to rise exponentially every single year.
o   In 1998, Ergsan fired his entire staff “just because”. He did rehire them all again a week later, only to pull off the gambit two other times.
o   In 2003, the Sabres had to play the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot, with the game being tied in the final minute. Referee George Kellerman whistled- questionably- Sabres defenceman Dmitri Kalinin for tripping right off a face-off, handing the Canadiens a power play that allowed them to score the game-winning goal. When Ergsan saw what happened, rumour had it that Kellerman was kidnapped, taken to a ranch and repeatedly had his legs kicked out from underneath him (“tripped”). The attackers have never been identified, and, of course, Ergsan has continued to deny involvement.
o   Fellow owners note that Ergsan is strangely cordial and inviting when the time comes for a vote on an issue that has importance to him and the Sabres, while being cold and distant the rest of the time. The best example? The league’s vote to implement tougher restrictions on “clutching and grabbing”- which would benefit the speedy Sabres- was preceded by a lavish dinner the night before for the entire Board of Governors paid for by- guess who- Dave Ergsan. A year later, the Sabres would parade around with the Cup, paid for by Ergsan’s machinations. Needless to say, there are still a few owners bitter about that one.
o   When speaking in press conferences, Ergsan can’t stop gushing about the fans, and every year he seems to have a new promotion that just suckers the fans to fill the Memorial Auditorium. However, as many fans themselves have attested (which Ergsan’s supporters dismiss as “hearsay”), when they’ve actually met Ergsan in person, he hardly acknowledges their existence, and sometimes openly insults them. A woman noted that, once, Ergsan groped her breast and asked her to come back to his place, which she refused. Unfortunately, Ergsan escaped prosecution due to the fact that the incident occurred at night without witnesses.
o   Over the years, Ergsan has gained a reputation as being “Buffalo’s most charitable philanthropist”, not missing an opportunity to donate money for a cause or to make special appearances for children in hospitals. Despite this, on more than a few occasions Ergsan demanded kickbacks, and, on one occasion, openly insulted a school whose construction he funded. Yet, despite his difficulties, the politicians of Buffalo continue inviting him back into their projects.
o   Ergsan hardly makes himself available to the press, but, when he does, he only does so in “controlled” sessions so that he can rehearse his answers and with the questions provided in advance. The only times Ergsan ever makes himself available for “spontaneous” interviews is when he has something to promote, where, like with the Governors, Ergsan becomes strangely cordial and inviting- until the issue that Ergsan championed actually got addressed, in which case his “nice guy routine” disappears. How few in the press catch this is beyond me.
o   In 2003-04, the Chicago Blackhawks accused the Sabres of trying to poison their food two hours before their game. Their only proof was the equipment manager, Rick Bosco, walking into the kitchen and seeing a shadowy figure bolt from the premises. Bosco then noticed the food smelled funny and threw it all out in a trash compactor (preventing an actual lab analysis), but, due to the lack of evidence, no proper league investigation could take place.
o   There was the time league commissioner Robert Browning stated that “the antagonistic theatrics of the Sabres are a quintessential constituent within the grander milieu of the component parts of the competitive hockey entertainment facility” which, I think, means that Buffalo are “a necessary evil”. Well, at least somebody else calls them evil…I think.
o   Finally, John Tavares reported that, shortly after he signed with the New York Islanders, that his house in Toronto was painted blue and gold, with a strange man holding a baseball bat guarding Tavares’ front door. When he called police, the man immediately fled, allowing Tavares to notice the inside of his house had been ransacked and robbed, with Sabres memorabilia littered all over the house. Police were able to locate the robber, Eric Gumby, but were unable to link Gumby to Ergsan.

There you have it. If that isn’t good enough for you to hate Ergsan, then I’m not sure what is. Just remember that’s the tip of the iceberg- there are still countless other incidents I couldn’t cover.

It just goes to show you that, even if Ergsan appears warm and cuddly on the outside, you can never forget the dark underbelly that lies beneath the fake smile. Do not let the success fool you into thinking that he cares- the Sabres are nothing but a toy, and everyone eventually gets tired of toys. Refuse to let the wool come over your eyes- get out there and protest and boycott in any way that you can. The sooner that we recognize the evil, the sooner we can deal with it- and when it comes to Dave Ergsan, dealing with it needs to come sooner rather than later.

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I don't know what to say here...I was never very good at these things...

What can I say? I'm not a complex guy but I enjoy a complex discussion. I can talk about just anything because  I'm a quick learner and just like learning, but I'm a sports (watcher) person at heart. I've got a History Degree (with Honours) from York and I have the Research Analyst certificate from Georgian. I'm also a writer- I've provided the links in my profile for you to see if you wish.

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