What is clipping and why does Keith Ballard keep getting called for it?

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.

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31 comments

  1. FireflyFaery
    October 17, 2011

    It appears to me that Tootoo “jumps” or “rises” before he’s hit, bringing his knees up closer to the point of contact. That’s my opinion though.

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    • Kwagner
      October 17, 2011

      Tootoo absolutely rises up and in fact, his left foot and skate are not on the ice in a defensive move to guard his mid section from the hit.

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    • Darren
      October 18, 2011

      Yes, Tootoo’s left knee is clearly up quite high when he makes contact with Ballard. How could it be otherwise? Tootoo is what, 5’8″? Ballard would have to get down on his hands and knees to make contact with Tootoo’s knee.

      Since Tootoo’s skate wasn’t planted, he was at little risk for injury. (Watching the Peca hit, you can see that Tucker flew right into Peca’s leg from the side while it was firmly planted).

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  2. Andrew K
    October 17, 2011

    The only issue I have with your assessment on the Tootoo hit is that he is taking a stride and as a result his left leg is raised thus causing the principle point of contact to be his knee. This is similar to the player turning his back at the last second. If thats the way the refs are going to call it I think you’ll see more players trying to jump over the check and getting hurt even more.

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  3. BeCanucks
    October 17, 2011

    I think that the refs agreed with you after reviewing the play on the jumbotron because we got a make-up call.

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  4. DanD
    October 17, 2011

    That leafs/Islanders series was an absolute bloodbath, but one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen.

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  5. Steven Ray Orr
    October 17, 2011

    “as in the clip above, no pun intended”. You, sir, are a liar. That pun was fully intended.

    Good assessment of Hips and his checks. As happy as I am to yell at the refs every time they call “clipping” on the pride of Baudette, you’ve helped make more clear how fine a line he treads.

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  6. Tom 1040
    October 17, 2011

    IMO,

    The hip-check is a garbage hit done by garbage players.

    All the Canuck fans who (suddenly) like it/them are nothing but homers because Ballard is a runt and horrible and can’t hit anyone with any legitimate impact.

    Hip-checks should thrown out of the game because it is for cowards and wussies. Barring that, give any garbage player who throws it/them a 2-minute penalty at the very least.

    Penalties for hip-checks are completely just.

    IMO.

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    • Steven Ray Orr
      October 18, 2011

      *sighs as be puts out some food for the troll*

      From Merriam-Webster, justice is defined as “the administration of law”. In this case, the NHL rulebook is the law and it declares that hip checks, providing that they do not target the knees, are a legal contact between two players.

      So, no, penalties for hip checks are not “just”.

      Ballard’s job is to keep his opponents from scoring. Hip checks are an effective way of doing that, but if they are his only method of protecting the puck, he is in trouble, because learning to avoid hip checks is also pretty easy (unless we’re playing NHL ’12. NERF THE HIPS, EA!). Fortunately, it is just one of the tools at his disposal.

      In conclusion: idiot.

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      • Tom 1040
        October 18, 2011

        Gee, thanks for the definition. Unfortunately, it is completely irrelevant as is much of your existence – most likely.

        It is not a question of Ballard’s job that is under discussion, nor does that legitimate a cowardly hit whereby someone ducks/turtles to administer it.

        Please provide me a list of other ‘regular’ skaters that use this kind of hit on a ‘regular’ basis.

        You are doing a very fine Bettman impersonation with your reply.

        He never played the game either.

        In conclusion: Apparently, you are another tool at his disposal.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          October 18, 2011

          Is it necessary for either of you to be dicks while discussing this? Just checking.

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          • Tom 1040
            October 18, 2011

            Sorry Daniel.

            I shall refrain. I usually just respond in kind.

            Once again, apologies. I shall refrain.

            I shant participate in any future name-calling.

            Your blog is well done.

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          • peanutflower
            October 18, 2011

            And to those of you who are calling for Tom 1040 and his buddy Cambo to be the replacement for Kurtenblog, no. just no. please no.

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          • Steven Ray Orr
            October 18, 2011

            Your rodeo, so I’m happy to follow your rules. I’ll work on civility.

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            • Daniel Wagner
              October 18, 2011

              Much appreciated: you can show your disagreement without the insults and it’s often more effective to do so.

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      • Tom 1040
        October 18, 2011

        Oh, and one more point, this so-called wonderful (cowardly) hip-check took out the knee of your namesake and ultimately ended his career at age 28.

        There was absolutely nothing ‘just’ about that.

        Hopefully, the NHL will remain a man’s game with no ‘fowl’ play (i.e. ducking…ahem) allowed.

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  7. DanO
    October 18, 2011

    Tom 1040,
    Perhaps you should look at hockey footage from the 60′s to 70′s to note that hip checks were more prominent than shoulder checks prior to plastic shoulder pads being made.

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    • Tom 1040
      October 18, 2011

      Ummm,

      What does that have anything to do with this discussion?

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      • JS Topher
        October 18, 2011

        I think what it means is that referring to the hip check as cowardly, is fairly invalid when the only reason why shoulder checking is so prominent nowadays is because of the use of extra protection. What exactly is it, anyways, that allows you to convince yourself that hipchecks are so “cowardly”?

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  8. shoes
    October 18, 2011

    Principle point of contact is the key. Not what happens immediately afterwards or many ‘legal’ checks suddenly become penalties. You are telling me that Ballards hip, when his legs are straight up and down is lower than Zetterburg or anyone else’s hip, when their feet are on the ice?????? Think about it. NOW…..if the “victim” is trying to jump over the check, which they all do, and then consequently end up in a somersault, how can that be the checkers fault. I fail to see a single one of these calls that is accurate and part of the reason …..is that fans and media in their zeal to be politically correct in the new NHL tend to act like sheep. Watch the video, look at the stills and then come back and tell me that the “victim” did NOT jump to avoid the check. Then try and explain why the checker is responsible for the “victims” decision to try and jump over the check. You are mistaken in this instance Mr. Mooney.

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  9. shoes
    October 18, 2011

    The only knee that Ballards contacts at all in any of these checks is possibly the wee-knee and it is well protected.

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  10. nmac
    October 18, 2011

    The hip-check has ofter been described as a “lost art” among defencemen which used to be thrown regularly by the likes of Rob Blake and Potvin, both highly regarded hall of fame and future hall of fame players, or should we say cowards, according to Tom. Once again Toms child like man-hate-crush for Ballard has clouded his judgement, and Ballards improving play is quietly killing him. The hip check is a great play, and while confusing and misleading to those that have not played the game(Tom), its a check which appears spectacular, yet is almost always painless for either party. If people recall the Tucker/Peca matter, Tucker had previously expressed to Peca that he was going to injure him…and obviously did. You can see on approach what Tucker had in mind, and clearly targeted Pecas knee. The result was inevitable.

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    • shoes
      October 18, 2011

      You hit the nail on the head regard hip checks. There is no way that Keith Ballard or anybody else in the NHL can contact or target the knee well at the same time using their hip, provided that their skate blades are on the ice. If they drop to their knees and attempt to flip the guy over that is a different matter.

      The real problem with the hip check is that it is NOT blindside nor is it open ice, so the ‘victim’ has plenty of time to see it coming, but has nowhere to go except up and over. Now if the ‘victim’ does not go up and over and hits square on the hip a much different result where the checker can be injured. for further info see Hamhuis, Dan.

      The ‘victim’ is at fault 100% of the time by attempting to leap over a now stationary hip right in front of him. What astounds me is that a large number of people see this buffoon flying through the air as he should be flying, and they somehow see his knee contacting the hip or shoulder as he is in mid flight and they call clipping. I am certain the spirit of the rule is not that you cannot contact a knee…………. it is that you cannot target the knee of a skater who is skating.

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  11. peanutflower
    October 18, 2011

    Of course, let’s not forget Jan Bulis’ memorable hip check-like move on Jack Johnson in Johnson’s first NHL game. It wasn’t a classic hip check by any means, but it had the same cartwheeling effect and it was Bulis’ best move in his whole career, and particularly satisfying to have it served on such a young punk.

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  12. sunnydee07
    October 18, 2011

    I swear the NHL must have the most inconsistent refereeing in professional sport. Perhaps it’s the speed of the game, or perhaps it’s the training and messaging they receive from their superiors. You shouldn’t be seeing so many examples of the same action being penalized or not in so many games. Clipping should be called when there is knee or below the knee contact BY INTENT, not just because the other guy saw it coming a hopped up to avoid it and caused the checking player to hit below the knee. Surely it can’t be that difficult?

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    • Rituro
      October 18, 2011

      “I swear the NHL must have the most inconsistent refereeing in professional sport.”

      Try watching MLS.

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  13. Aderam
    October 18, 2011

    I’m a little disappointed that the puns weren’t intended.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      October 18, 2011

      Secretly, they were.

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      • Dane
        October 18, 2011

        Intended or not, they where very punny.

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  14. J21
    October 19, 2011

    Has Ballard even injured anyone on one of his hipchecks? The whole point is that he’s remarkably good at it — it’s a sloppy hit which would risk hurting a player. If anyone deserves a “reputation” for dangerous clipping, it is certainly not he.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      October 19, 2011

      He injured Hordichuk. Granted, that was more of an evasive reflex on a guy taking a run at him.

      It’s not about Ballard’s history of injuring players. It’s about the potential to do so if he hits guys in the knees. I love his hipchecks as much as the next person, but I can’t fault the league for being overprotective of its players knees.

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