New York: Off the ice

March 1, 2021
The GIST: Rangers star Artemi Panarin has been on a leave of absence since assault allegations against him emerged from his former Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) coach. We briefly mentioned this last week, and now we’re here to give you more of this wild story.
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New York: Off the ice
Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The background: Panarin is originally from Korkino, Russia and began his professional career with the KHL before the star signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, then the Rangers in 2019. But this story isn’t about Panarin’s playing history.

  • Back in January, Panarin, who previously criticized Vladimir Putin and his political regime, shared his support for the yRussian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny — who is currently serving jail time — on social media.
  • While pro athletes supporting a party is par for the course in most democratic countries, it’s not common in Russia. A few weeks after Panarin’s post, his former KHL coach accused the winger via Russian tabloid of assaulting a woman early in 2011 — and the timing is v. fishy.

The implications: Panarin and the KHL both denied the allegation, and not one of Panarin’s former teammates has corroborated it. When Panarin decided to take his leave of absence, the Rangers released a statement addressing it: "This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against [Panarin] for being outspoken on recent political events."

  • This whole situation feels reminiscent of Portland Trail Blazer Enes Kanter’s struggle with his home country of Turkey, and it highlights the personal sacrifices some international players have to make to be professional athletes.
  • While Panarin is safe in New York, most of his family still lives in Russia. His leave of absence allows him to further investigate the details surrounding the allegations. Our thoughts are with Panarin and his family, and we hope he can safely and comfortably return to the ice soon.