The New York Rangers will be without their highest-paid player indefinitely after Artemi Panarin announced he will take a leave of absence today. The move comes following a report originating from former KHL coach Andrei Nazarov, alleging that Panarin beat up an 18-year-old girl in 2011. Panarin was playing for Chekhov Vityaz in the KHL at the time, which was coached by Nazarov, a former NHL winger who has led several different teams in the KHL. Some, including Larry Brooks of the New York Post, have suggested that the report was politically motivated as retribution for Panarin’s previous public support of opposition leader Alexi Navalny.
The Rangers released a statement in support of Panarin:
Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. This is clearly an intimidation taxtic 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.
The loss of Panarin will be a huge one for the Rangers, who rely on him to drive the offense every night. The 29-year-old winger has 18 points through his first 14 games this season, logging more than 20 minutes a night. Given it is not clear how long he will be out, the Rangers must find a new way to generate goals and a new player to fill Panarin’s role on the powerplay.
The Rangers have won two straight and find themselves inching back into the East Division playoff picture.