Artemi Panarin
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rangers superstar fighting allegations of domestic violence from more than 10 years ago, allegations that may be politically motivated. 

On Monday morning the New York Rangers released a statement acknowledging allegations made in Russian media by a former coach against star forward Artemi Panarin.

Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team as he deals with these allegations.

Andrei Nazarov, who was his coach while with Vityaz, claimed to Russian media that Panarin beat up a female in a hotel bar more than ten years ago. The comments from Nazarov were translated and broken down on Twitter on Monday morning.

In short, Nazarov has claimed that Panarin, who was 19 at the time, was involved in an altercation with an 18-year-old female in December 2011. Police were called and the courts were paid off to make the case disappear.

The NHL takes domestic violence accusations very seriously. But the Rangers statement points to political motivations behind this story going public now.

Why now?

Panarin left Russia to join the NHL in 2015, signing with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has enjoyed a very good start to his career and signed a blockbuster contract with the New York Rangers in 2019, making him one of the highest paid players in the NHL. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2020.

So, why are these allegations appearing most than a decade later?

Nazarov, who is currently the head coach of the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, is an outspoken supporter of Vladimir Putin. He has openly advocated for jailing hockey players who are critical of Putin in the past.

It’s also worth noting that the media outlet in Russia that broke this decade-old story is run by a significant donor to Putin’s last presidential campaign.

Panarin gave a stunningly critical interview with the Vsemu Golovin YouTube channel in July of 2019 in which he blasted the Putin regime.

In January of this year, Panarin was among a number of Russian players in the NHL who showed public support for Alexei Navalny. Panarin posted support for both Navalny and protests planned in his defense across Russia on his social media channels.

As the Rangers note in the organization’s statement on Monday, Panarin is strong in his contention that these allegations are baseless and politically motivated.

Rangers impact

The Rangers are currently sixth in the East Division and Panarin has been the team’s best offensive player by far. His 18 points are six more than Pavel Buchnevich.

The organization is fully supporting Panarin as he takes leave, but his absence will handicap an offensively challenged roster even further.

But we need to take a step back from hockey and have some perspective.

These are serious allegations of domestic violence, which need to be considered. Both the NHL and the Rangers will conduct their own investigation into this report. When Panarin returns to the ice will ultimately be up to him, the team and league.

We also need to consider the source of the claims in context and understand Panarin’s counter-claim of this being a political hit piece, attacking him for backing Navalny.

Panarin has much bigger issues to consider right now than getting on the ice for the Rangers. His character has been questioned and his family and friends in Russia will now be under scrutiny as well.

Tab has written about MLB, the NHL and the NFL for more than a decade for publications including The Fourth Period, Bleacher Report and La Vida Baseball. He is the author of two books about the Chicago Blackhawks and has been credentialed for the MLB All-Star Game and postseason and multiple Stanley Cup Finals. He is the co-host of the Line Drive Radio podcast.