New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons.
The news comes after a Russian newspaper published allegations from Panarin’s former KHL coach, Andrei Nazarov, claiming the winger got into a physical altercation with an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011. Nazarov’s interview said Panarin “sent her to the floor with several powerful blows,” according to a translation provided to ESPN. Nazarov has previously criticized Panarin’s outspoken beliefs toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement Monday. “This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events. Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN that the league plans to look into the allegations.
Nazarov, who played 571 games in the NHL, said a criminal case against Panarin was opened in Latvia but added that somebody paid “a sum of 40k Euro cash” to stop the case, though it was unclear who paid that.
Panarin was traded from Nazarov’s team a month after the alleged assault.
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Last month, Panarin showed his support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post. Through a Rangers spokesperson, Panarin declined to comment further on the topic in the days after the post.
Panarin, 29, was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP last season. He has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 14 games this season. The Rangers have won two straight but are still four points out of a playoff position in the East Division.
Panarin, who signed an $81.5 million, seven-year contract with New York in 2019, typically spends his offseasons in Russia and still has family there, including his grandparents. He remains in the United States and has no plans to return to Russia, a source close to Panarin told ESPN.
It is rare to see high-profile Russian athletes speak out against Putin or the Russian government, but Panarin has been consistent in his stance.
In a Russian-language interview in 2019, Panarin said that he is frustrated to see economic development stalled and limited to the elite in Moscow.
“I may look like a foreign agent right now, but it’s not like that,” Panarin said in the 2019 interview. “I think that the people who hush up the problems are more like foreign agents than those who talk about them. If I think about problems, I am coming from a positive place, I want to change something, to have people live better. I don’t want to see retirees begging.”
Rangers coach David Quinn said he spoke with his players about Panarin’s situation.
“We’re going to help Artemi through this difficult time,” Quinn said. “You have to continue to unite as a team. It’s hard to overcome losing a player like Artemi from a hockey standpoint, but we’ve got to find a way to do it.”