Keith Ballard’s Hit on Corey Perry: Clean or Dirty?


Looking beyond the Minnesota Wild’s 5-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night in St. Paul, one play is still fresh on the minds of many around the NHL.

In the first period of last night’s contest, Corey Perry left the game in serious distress after a knee injury caused by devastating hip check by Wild defenseman Keith Ballard.

Perry, the former league MVP in 2011, was hardly able to put any weight on his left leg after tumbling over Ballard’s back. He was helped off the ice and unable to return to the game as many thought he had suffered a very serious injury. While no penalty was called on the play, Nate Thompson of the Ducks came out the next shift for redemption and fought Ballard.

The hip check is in some ways a lost art in the NHL. The play was much more common in the 80’s and 90’s when the game had a different system of policing than it does today. With increased emphasis on player safety in recent years, the hip check now teeters the line of clean and dirty as much as any play in hockey. Rather than head hunting which gets far more coverage due to increased concern over concussions, there are far fewer hip checks that people can look at as precedent to determine whether a certain hit, such as Ballard’s last night, was within the confines of  NHL rules.

More from Wild News

So let’s break down the above video frame-by-frame. Perry picks up the puck on the powerplay with speed in the neutral zone while Keith Ballard transitions at the blue line. An average team may try to dump and chase in this situation, but with Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau’s style which emphasizes puck possession and freewheeling, the Ducks carry this puck into the zone 100% of the time. Quite honestly, Ballard is set up to be fried by Perry given their differences in speed. Being the much larger player at 6’3, Perry attempts to drive into the corner to set up. Standing four inches shorter at 5’11, Ballard’s only play to stop Perry is to hit the brakes and go for the hip check against the boards. Just as Ballard leans over, Perry notices and tries to squeeze through a tiny gap between the defenseman and the boards with one last stride with his left leg. Ballard catches that prone leg causing it to hyperextend and Perry to flip over Ballard.

In my opinion, Perry’s injury on this play is due to his own actions. Ballard never targeted Perry’s knee specifically and he really had no other play in the given situation. Had Perry not exposed his left leg in that manner with his final stride, there would likely be no injury on this play. But because a middling veteran such as Keith Ballard knocks a superstar goal scorer such as Corey Perry out of the game, people assume there was some issue with it.

Remember that Keith Ballard is no stranger to this play. He has never been shy about throwing the hip check being an undersized defenseman in the NHL. Here are two more fairly recent examples of somewhat similar plays:

I doubt the NHL will look further into this play meaning there shouldn’t be a fine or suspension coming Keith Ballard’s way. Breaking the play down shows that Ballard was caught in a tough situation and essentially his only out was the hip check. As for Perry, it seems like the injury is less serious than initially thought as he will continue to travel with the team on its current road trip according to Ducks beat writer Eric Stephens.