The Kontinental Hockey League says it has “not been aware of or received a complaint in relation to any incident involving Artemi Panarin in December 2011.”
In a statement to ESPN, the KHL said that if the league had received any complaint, it would have investigated, “as we take any allegations of misconduct incredibly seriously.”
On Monday, Panarin took a leave of absence from the New York Rangers after an allegation from one of his former KHL coaches, Andrei Nazarov.
Nazarov, the former Vityaz coach, told a Russian newspaper that while his team was on a road trip to Riga, Latvia, in 2011, Panarin got into a physical altercation with an 18-year-old woman. In his interview, Nazarov said Panarin “sent her to the floor with several powerful blows.” He also said that a criminal case was opened but that local police were paid 40,000 euros to cover it up.
Panarin, 29, remains at home in Connecticut, according to sources, and doesn’t have any plans to return to Russia right now. There is no timetable for his return to the Rangers, who face the Flyers on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, and he is being paid through his leave.
The Rangers organization remains steadfast in its support for the winger, who they say is “shaken and concerned” by the allegations. In a statement Monday, the Rangers called Nazarov’s claims “clearly an intimidation tactic being used against [Panarin] for being outspoken on recent political events.”
Since Panarin went on leave, there has been no corroborating evidence and no court or police records to support Nazarov’s allegations, nor has a victim come forward.
ESPN spoke with two of Panarin’s teammates from the 2011 Vityaz team. Kip Brennan said he didn’t “hear or know of anything like that happening.” Jon Mirasty, although he called Nazarov a “good guy” and said he enjoyed playing for the coach, was also skeptical.
“I barely think anything like that would’ve happened, and I’m sure I would’ve heard about it,” Mirasty said. “And I don’t understand why it would be brought up 10 years later. Sounds like a hoax to me.”
Another teammate, Mikhail Anisin, told Russian outlet Sport-Express on Wednesday that there was a 2011 incident in Riga involving Panarin but that it did not play out as Nazarov depicted it. Anisin said the incident took place at a karaoke bar.
“Artemi didn’t beat anyone, maybe pushed one girl a little bit, nothing more,” Anisin told Sport-Express. Ansin also said police came to the team hotel but left after determining the incident did not warrant charges. He disputed the claim about police being paid off, saying the players at the time didn’t have that type of money.
The NHL is looking into the allegations, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly. The NHL is the only one of the four major North American professional sports leagues without a specific domestic violence policy, handling cases on an individual basis. It would be uncharacteristic of the NHL to punish Panarin without corroborating evidence, police or court records, or a victim coming forward.
It is unclear what prompted Nazarov to speak out now. The Rangers believe his comments are in response to Panarin’s Instagram post last month in which he posted support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Panarin has previously been outspoken about political issues in his home country and has been critical of Russia President Vladimir Putin in the past. Nazarov is a known Putin supporter.
Nazarov, who played in 571 NHL games, is not currently coaching a team. He last worked with a KHL club in 2018.
Panarin, who signed an $81.5 million, seven-year contract with New York in 2019, typically spends his offseasons in Russia and still has family there, including his grandparents.
It has been a dramatic season for the Rangers. The team placed defenseman Tony DeAngelo on waivers last month — and has ordered him to stay at home until they can find a trade partner — after he got into a physical altercation with goalie Alexandar Georgiev after a loss.
“I jokingly said to [rookie] Alexis [Lafrenière] that he’s seen more — for lack of a better term — drama and just generally wild, unorthodox things happening in the first two months of the season than I’ve experienced over the last decade or so,” veteran Chris Kreider said Tuesday. “I guess that’s just the state of the world. It’s been strange.”