Early Monday morning, news broke that New York Rangers star forward Artemi Panarin will be taking a leave of absence. This news comes after reports that Panarin allegedly assaulted an 18-year-old girl in Russia back in 2011.
What we know
As of right now, there is a lot of speculation around the Panarin rumors, but the goal is to separate fact from fiction. This is the case with any accusation like this.
Before we dive into the facts, it is important to remember that this accusation came out of Russia. Russia has been in civil unrest essentially since the 1980s, and they have been censored heavily since the beginning of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has been consistent on this.
The idea of censorship in Russia grows relevant in this case considering the fact that Panarin has been openly critical of Russia’s government in recent months. He has been particularly critical of their treatment of protests in the name of Alexei Navalny. Navalny was arrested in Russia earlier this year after criticizing the Russian President.
The accusations come at a rather convenient time for Putin and the Russian government. Looking at this case, it seems like a political ploy. He criticized the Russian government and all of a sudden he is a violent criminal? Seems a little odd.
The Rangers issued a statement on the matter this afternoon backing their star player calling the accusations “fabricated” and “unfounded”.
What does this mean for Panarin?
The honest answer to that question is that nobody knows. There is speculation all around about the accusations about the basis and what it means. The one thing we do know is that Artemi will not be suiting up in a Rangers uniform for the time being. He may be back this season. He also may not. We don’t really have an answer at this time.
Based on the Rangers statement, it appears that Panarin’s leave of absence is to get his family out of Russia and into the United States. Considering Russia’s history with cases like this in their own country, it makes sense that he would want his family here. If that is the case, then it is almost certain that once Panarin’s family is safe in America, he will be back on the ice.
In the event that the leave of absence isn’t just about his family, Artemi’s career could be in jeopardy. If Artemi is extradited to Russia for the case, he could face serious charges. Considering this is Russia, he could face charges for this accusation and face severe punishment, not for the crime, but for criticizing Putin. The Russians have not been hesitant to create false charges and prosecute based purely on criticism. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.
The worst-case scenario for the Rangers is that these accusations are true. If Panarin actually assaulted the girl, then his career is over. He would likely spend time in Russian jail at that point, which would be deserved without a doubt.
As sports fans, all we can do is hope that these accusations are, in fact, unfounded. Anything other than that would be extremely sad for the NHL.