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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

How bad was Nazem Kadri’s low hit on Alex Ovechkin?

On Friday night, Nazem Kadri delivered a hard, low check to Alexander Ovechkin. The referees assessed a two minute minor penalty for tripping, rather than opting for the more punitive clipping penalty, which would have automatically been a major penalty due to Ovechkin seemingly being injured on the play.

The difference between a beautiful, legal hipcheck and a nefarious clipping penalty can be pretty narrow, so it’s worth taking a moment to review the gap. Helpful in this regard is a video narrated by Brendan Shanahan, back when he was an executive at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety rather than with the Maple Leafs.

The official entry in the league rulebook is Rule 44, which runs 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 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.

44.2 Minor Penalty – A player who commits these fouls will be assessed a minor penalty for “clipping.”

44.3 Major Penalty – If an injury occurs as a result of this “clipping” check, the player must be assessed a major penalty (see 44.5).

44.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by clipping.

44.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – A game misconduct penalty must be assessed anytime a major penalty is applied for injuring an opponent by clipping.

The distinction between that gorgeous hipcheck and that nasty clip comes down to the point of contact: At or below the knees, and it’s a penalty; above the knees and sports networks can feel good running it over and over again on highlight reels.

The example offered in the video (legal on the left, illegal on the right) is helpful in showing what the differences between those points of contact look like, but because the hits chosen are both from the side it’s difficult to apply them directly to the Kadri hit on Ovechkin.

Leafs Nation’s own Jeff Veillette helps us out a bit with some slow-motion replays:

I’ve watched the original video of the hit a dozen times now, and I have to admit that I’m still not absolutely sure where the initial point of contact is here. The second of those slow motion replays above initially to me looked like contact just above the knee, but the motion of Ovechkin’s knee afterward looks like that was the primary area hit.

It’s the kind of play that leaves me in appreciation of the on-ice officials, who have to make this call immediately. In this case, a tripping minor looks a smart compromise, penalizing Kadri for a reckless hit but not slapping him with a major and automatic misconduct for a check that straddles the fence between legal and illegal.

I’m going to be very interested in the reaction of Player Safety. They should have access to additional camera angles on this one, and along with them a clearer view as to whether or not the hit complies with the league rules.

To me, this is a dangerous check. Whichever side of the rules it actually falls on, the fact that we’re parsing the point-of-contact to this degree all by itself shows that it’s at least a borderline check. It is, however, not remotely in the same class as the Brad Marchand hit used as an example in the clipping video above. It arose organically out of a fast-moving play, and even an inch higher and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

The good news for hockey fans is that Ovechkin was able to return the next period. Legal or not, heated playoff contest or not, nobody wants to see a player suffer a serious knee injury in a hockey game.

Update: Just in case there wasn’t enough moral ambiguity in the hit itself, Ovechkin opted for some stickwork himself to even the score after returning to the game. The officials declined to call a penalty on the play.

Update 2: I promise no more updates after this, but Matt Niskanen getting in on the action was just too much to pass up. That’s an ugly slash:

  • jimithy

    ‘Twas a beautiful hip check that was thwarted by #8’s inability to fly. He tried to jump out of the way but it was too late. He hurt himself and looked like a fool. Anything to beat the Leafs riddle.

  • MartinPolak

    Kadri said it best
    Kadri on Ovechkin hit: “He’s dumping the puck in & going to run our d-men. I got no choice. I got to try & hold him up & save my d-men.”

    That is, no one talks about Ovi jumping and charging on dmen. Nope those plays are clean right but Kadri must be dirty.

  • DJ_44

    While I appreciate the term collision…. this was a dirty hit. The point of contact was the knee….I cannot even see how that is in dispute, look at Ovi’s knee hyper-extend. Furthermore, it is clear Kadri dropped down to the knee immediately before contact.

    The Leafs got a massive break from the refs. It should have been called clipping and got 5 and a game.

      • jimithy

        Billy D is right. Ovechkin put his own knee in danger by jumping up, trying to evade the beautiful hip check. But he was in too tight. No room to escape. Jumping up made the check look low. Ovechkin later went on a hissy fit like a spoiled little girl. What a disgrace. And this is why him and his childish teammates will never win the Cup.

        • DJ_44

          Okay….right….when one jumps, the skate is generally off the ice. This is not the case; watch the video: the skate is in contact with the ice surface. There is no defence if someone drops down to target the knee. Does his thigh move backwards first or does his knee? Should have been 5 and a game. The DoPS should also be calling Kadri…..this is suspendible, especially given Kadri’s history. Although it probably will not be.

    • Gary Empey

      The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. At that speed with that amount of force if the point of contact was the knee then OV would have been out of the game. Likely out of the serious and like Polak a candidate for surgery. OV was trying to sell it to get Kadri out of the game and maybe suspended. It’s 5 minutes and a game misconduct if a player gets injured and the ref calls it clipping. OV decided to stay down. appear injured, and get help to hobble off the ice. With less than three minutes left in the period he was not due to play another shift anyways Any one could tell he was not injured when he came back for the next period and was flying out there. It could be considered a risky type of check because if Kadri misses the check it would be a major for clipping and he could have taken taken OV out of the series like Polak is. That is not what happened here. It wasn’t a low-bridge attempt to take out his knee.

      • getrdone

        Indeed, if that was a low hit and on the knee Ovechkin would not have gotten up. This was a clean hip check not a clip! I do not see how anyone could call that a dirty hit(just to emphasize like some others have done). Ovie came back good enough to deliver a couple of spears that were not penalized. Cry Baby!!

  • LAKID

    Even I hate to say it but that hit was garbage Kadri should be fined or suspended as long as OV is out of the line up. Oh that’s right never mind 1 game suspension. Cap’s in 6!

  • LTFan

    IMO Kadri was trying to put Ovechkin out of the game or series. It was a dirty hit. While Kadri is a decent player he is starting to morph into what Matt Cooke became – a dirty player. Some one is going to even things up next season and hopefully it is on Kadri and not on one of the Leafs good young players. Leaf Nation would go ballistic if someone did the same thing to Matthews.