With Monday morning’s report that Keith Ballard will be a member of the Canucks’ defensive top four for the second game in a row Tuesday (as well that suspicious @Keith_Ballard4 Twitter account that has yet to tweet but is being followed by both Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa), it seems reasonable to assume that we’re going to see a lot more of the hipcheck-happy left side defenseman this season.
And, if that’s the case, knowing Ballard as we do, we should probably get ready to see a few more plays blown down for that rarest of rare penalties the league calls “clipping,” a banned action that, up until last May, many Canuck fans didn’t even know existed.
Already this season, Ballard has been penalized for this infraction once, and it stands to reason that he’ll likely get called for it again, especially since he hipchecks as a freaking reflex. Just ask Darcy Hordichuk:
Unused to the call and ever-paranoid that league officials are out to get their team, many Canuck fans have written clipping off as some sort of made-up rule designed to ruin Keith Ballard’s career. Of course, that’s hogwash. First of all, Ballard’s lucky he’s only been called for it twice (more on this in a moment), and second, clipping was outlawed specifically to save NHL careers.
The penalty was written into the rulebook after a 2002 incident in which Darcy Tucker blew out the ACL and MCL on Michael Peca’s left knee with this dangerously low hit:
Yeesh. Again, Peca’s knee, which Tucker appears to have targeted, was destroyed, but there was little the league could do. It was a legal hit. So, to rectify the the fact that something so heinous was permissible, the NHL added “clipping” to the rulebook, worded as follows:
44.1 Clipping - Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a “clipping” manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.
An illegal “low hit” is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.
In short, if you hit a guy at or below the knees (as in the clip above, no pun intended), it’s clipping.
Considering this, while Canuck fans had every right to protest the call when it appeared during the Nashville series on the grounds that the penalty is never called, a review of Ballard’s hit on Jordin Tootoo indicates that the two minutes were deserved. Look closely: the knee is, in fact, the principal point of contact.
A dead giveaway is the way that Tootoo does a full, mid-air front flip without Ballard having to move a muscle. If Ballard hits Tootoo any higher, that simply doesn’t happen.
Don’t think I’m saying that every hipcheck that results in a sweet flip is a penalty, however. Consider, on the flipside (no pun intended) Dan Hamhuis’s hit on Douglas Murray from last season, which also results a full-body rotation. You’ll notice that Hamhuis hits Murray above the knee, and the rotation is actually caused by Hamhuis following through to ensure the Sharks’ defenseman comes all the way around and lands safely.
Hamhuis did the same thing versus Milan Lucic in the Stanley Cup Final. The rotation was the result of his follow-through, not due to a low point of contact.
And that brings us to the first five games of this season, where Ballard has already thrown a number of lovely hipchecks and had one of them, this one, called for clipping:
Was that penalty deserved? Considering what we’ve already discussed, it’s the wrong call. Ballard backs right into Henrik Zetterberg’s midsection, driving him sideways into the boards and stopping the Red Wings’ forward dead in his tracks. Zetterberg doesn’t flip and his knees don’t buckle. This is a clean hit.
Heck, two nights later, Ballard does the exact same thing to Taylor Hall, right down to the way he sweeps the puck away a split second before he lowers the boom. This time around, the whistle goes rightly unblown.
So why was one called for clipping and the other deemed passable? I couldn’t say for certain, but I suspect it has something to do with how low Ballard drops prior to making contact with Zetterberg. It’s much lower than on the Hall hit. From looking at the Tootoo hipcheck and a number of other, borderline hits (such as the McGinn hipcheck, which is dangerously low but gets a pass simply because McGinn is turned to the side), Ballard has a tendency to get very low prior to contact, and this is clearly something for which the league’s officials are now watching. When his back falls to Zetterberg’s knee just prior to the hit, the official likely thinks he’s witnessing another clip.
What he misses, however, is that, just prior to contact, Ballard actually rises up and into Zetterberg’s waist, which is well within the rules.
Effectively, what Ballard suffered there was a clipping penalty due to reputation, which is impressively rare, but still not ideal. He’ll have to be very mindful of the reputation he’s developed going forward, or he’ll find himself on the receiving end of many more unjust penalties.Tags: Ballard, breakdowns, featured, Hips, I want to marry that hipcheck, reputation calls, spotlight