It's Always the Russians

Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the Rangers as he finds himself in a really interesting situation. Taken from the New York Post:

New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team in wake of a politically motivated article from Russia, in which his former Vityaz head coach alleges that the ex-forward of the Moscow Region club beat an 18-year-old girl in Riga, Latvia in 2011, The Post’s Larry Brooks reported Monday morning. Andrei Nazarov, who is currently the head coach of the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, has repeatedly criticized Panarin for the forward’s outspoken beliefs regarding Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s regime. Nazarov is a known Putin supporter. “Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers said in a statement. “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.”
In the ALhockey.ru article published Monday, and translated by The Post, Nazarov puts forth a detailed account from Dec. 11, 2011. The former Russian hockey player alleges that after Vityaz lost to Dynamo 2-0, in which Panarin didn’t have a great game, a then-19-year-old Panarin and other teammates were out at a hotel bar when he “sent the 18-year-old citizen of Latvia to the floor with several powerful blows.” Nazarov claims Panarin was detained by the police before there was an eventual criminal case and a trial. But Nazarov alleges that there was a bribe of 40,000 euros in cash to let Panarin off the hook. Panarin’s grandparents still reside in Russia, as well as a few other family members. The 29-year-old Korkino, Russia native has openly – and strongly – opposed Putin in the last few years. As recently as last month, Panarin showed his support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post ahead of planned protests in Russia.

This has Enes Kanter vibes written all over it. For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to, Kanter was extremely outspoken against the Turkish regime and it got to the extent where he thought they were sending assassins to kill him in the US. Now I can't speak to the validity of this accusation, but from what we've seen from Panarin since he entered the league in 2015 this would be very out of character for him. On the other hand this can absolutely be a hit piece orchestrated by the Russian government and it's supporters. Especially considering Nazarov is an outspoken supporter of Putin. When you are talking about leaders like Putin, complete control over public perception and opposition forces is absolutely crucial to their power. Using physical force against their opponents is not a good look for them domestically or abroad, so keeping the edge in the news and in the minds of the people is critical. When you have a high profile figure like Artemi Panarin speaking out against your government you need to find a way to intimidate and silence. If this story is completely fabricated as his team claims, then this is a very dangerous situation for Artemi, especially since he still has family that lives in Russia. I would say Artemi is not looking at a return to his homeland anytime soon. This is unusual for Putin as high profile athletes from Russia like Ovi are usually supporters of his regime. Artemi has a big following in the Russian hockey world having played in the KHL for 5 years, and he represented the Russian hockey team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Maybe this is an example of changing times with the newer generations coming up. The Rangers have released an official statement regarding what has happened.

Unfortunate situation overall for Artemi and the Rangers organization. If the story is proven true there will no doubt be a price to pay. I hope this gets resolved quickly. Artemi is crucial to the Rangers success and a fun player to watch out on the ice.