Rangers Star Artemi Panarin Takes Leave Of Absence After Wild Claims That Could Be Tied To Russian Politics

The New York Rangers will be without their high-scoring, highest-paid player now that Artemi Panarin has announced he's taking a leave of absence in the wake of a claim from former KHL coach and NHL tough guy Andrei Nazarov that Panarin beat up an 18-year-old woman in 2011.

Nazarov, who has a notorious reputation across the NHL and KHL for being a goon (1409 PIM over 571 NHL games) and being off his rockers, is also claiming that Panarin's actions "set a pattern of evil behavior that has culminated in his anti-Putin statements," Slava Malamud, who calls himself "Twitter's official Russian sports writer" writes.

That's right, it appears we might have a case of Russian political retribution within the NHL. Larry Brooks of the New York Post tweeted Monday that "Retribution was feared after Panarin's Instagram post on 1/21 in support of opposition leader Alexi Navalny with caption 'Freedom for Navalny.' Panarin, who has family in Russia, has been outspoken against Putin."

The Rangers released a statement showing support for their 29-year-old left-winger:

"Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. 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."

Here's how Nazarov described the 2011 event for Sports.ru:

- Decided to relax?

- Walked in the bar of the Radisson Hotel. Moreover, during the evening rest, he somehow did not like the young visitor of the institution. Our striker sent an 18-year-old citizen of Latvia to the floor with several powerful blows.

- Is the reason known?

- It's hard to say now. After beating the girl, he hurried to the room. And he asked to bring his teammate Misha Anisin, who in the bar, unlike Artemy, ordered only juice. But the police arrived quickly. Panarin was detained. They drew up a protocol.

- Criminal case shone?

- Case, court and real time. But the authoritative residents of Riga stood up for Panarin. Negotiations were held with the police authorities. I did not participate in the negotiations, but I heard about the figure of 40 thousand euros in cash for putting the brakes on the case.

- As a coach, did you have an educational conversation?

- Yes, but this is not the main thing. We did not even apologize to the parents of the girl who suffered from Panarin, and to her herself. But they did everything to prevent our rising star from thundering into jail. Didn't ruin a career.

- But the prison could ruin.

- It happens differently. But what is now clear is that we were wrong then. Artemy did not deserve to be saved from punishment by the whole world for beating a girl. 

- Well, if you stumbled - it doesn't happen to anyone ...

- So if only once. But there was also theft from the pockets of his own teammates in the children's team. And he himself later talked about it. And the willingness to raise a hand to the weak. And provocations - albeit verbal - of recent years in his social networks, - said Nazarov. 

You guys make the call here. Is this a hit job on Panarin by a sociopath or not?

Written by
Joe Kinsey is the Senior Director of Content of OutKick and the editor of the Morning Screencaps column that examines a variety of stories taking place in real America. Kinsey is also the founder of OutKick’s Thursday Night Mowing League, America’s largest virtual mowing league. Kinsey graduated from University of Toledo.