General Managers Punt on Offside Rule

The NHL general managers are expected to wrap up their annual March meeting this week. One area where there won’t be any changes is how offsides are reviewed. This is something of a surprise.

Determining what is and what isn’t offside was embarrassing in last June’s Stanley Cup final. It has gotten progressively worse. When soft-spoken Connor McDavid feels compelled to speak it is time to rethink the rule and its purpose.  According to Pierre LeBrun, while the NHL GMs tackled this last March at GM meetings, they couldn’t find consensus on the skate off the ice, over the blue-line. They haven’t this year either.

Related – Offside Rule: Stay or Go?

History of the Offside Rule

The NHL introduced coach’s challenges ahead of the 2015-16 season to allow coaches to ask for a review for an offside or goaltender interference call on scoring plays. Rule 83 of the NHL rulebook states:

Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone.

The position of the player’s skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.

A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick. However, a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered “off-side,” provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.

It should be noted that while the position of the player’s skates is what determines whether a player is “off-side,” nevertheless the question of an “off-side” never arises until the puck has completely crossed the leading edge of the blue line at which time the decision is to be made.

If a player legally carries or passes the puck back into his own defending zone while a player of the opposing team is in such defending zone, the off-side shall be ignored and play permitted to continue.

The rule was implemented to prohibit egregious offside infractions from happening, such as the infamous Matt Duchene one from the 2013 season. However, all the offside challenge has done is give coaches an opportunity to challenge every play that is within inches of going one way or the other. These challenges slow the game down, and they take away scoring, exactly what the NHL and fans don’t want.

Controversy and Considerations

In last year’s Stanley Cup final, the Nashville Predators were controlling the play early in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final when P.K. Subban scored. After the goal review, it was determined that Filip Forsberg was offside.

This call led to numerous complaints. NHL Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell suggested in January that he intends to bring up tweaking the offside rule at the next GM meetings in March (The Athletic 1/10/2018).

I think I’ll try to buy the managers over again as a group…I think it’s an adjustment to this rule that we experienced. This is our third year with it where I think we’ve experienced it enough where you can put some goals back on the board. The basis of it is, the player is still onside because he hasn’t crossed the blue-line. I don’t think you need to be touching the ice.

Many argued the league should alter the wording of its rulebook to prevent goals being taken away due to a skate being millimeters off the ice. The idea that a player’s skate must be touching the ice at the blue line is one issue. However, another option is to simply prohibit offside challenges after a possession change or after a long enough time spent in the attacking zone. That would limit the number of offside challenges that could be used.

There will be no changes this year.

Lack of Support

After discussing the possibility of adopting a more liberal interpretation of possession and control when a player crosses the blue-line, there wasn’t enough support to enact a revised rule. This is the second straight year that’s happened.

“I don’t even think we got to the vote last year,” said Campbell. “Some people wanted to leave it as it was. The managers have a good feel for the game. They have a feel for what their coaches and players are thinking, and that’s where they’re at.”

“It goes to a vote of the room,” Colin Campbell was quoted as stating. “We need two-thirds (support) to take it to the competition committee and eventually the board of governors. We got about 10 managers who felt that it was a problem and we should move it and the rest felt it was working fine.”

It is a shame that the only thing that might move is the NHL is another embarrassing postseason reversal.  One thing is for certain. It won’t happen this year.