NHL GMs to Re-Examine Skate-in-the-Air Offside at March Meeting

TORONTO — The NHL is going to take another run at tweaking its offside rule.

The league’s general managers shot down a proposed change 2 1/2 years ago that would have seen an attacking player deemed onside if his skate was in the air above the blue line — but not on the ice — when the puck entered the offensive zone.

There was considerable grousing when GMs met back in March 2017 in Boca Raton, Fla., after a number of goals that fell into that category were disallowed following video review.

Managers decided to stick with the current wording at the time, but NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said Tuesday it’s back on the table.

“We’re going to discuss it again,” he said following the annual GM meeting in downtown Toronto. “There’s a lot of nice goals scored (with) a foot in the air that you take back. We want to be fan-friendly and player-friendly.

“When a play goes on for 30 seconds and the goal is negated because of a foot in the air, we had three managers who spoke to it and felt maybe it was time to re-address it.”

That will happen when the GMs next meet in March.

Other Potential Topics

Managers touched on a few other topics, including another potential adjustment to offside when defining possession.

Boston Bruins centre Charlie Coyle was recently appeared to have the puck under his control in his skates at the blue line, but after he entered the zone and eventually scored, was ruled offside following review.

Bruins center Charlie Coyle
Bruins center Charlie Coyle (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

“It was a difficult one,” Campbell said. “More of the managers thought that (Coyle play) was OK.

“Players are very talented now, you almost have to consider what they can do with possession and control. We’re always trying to reward offence.”

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, however, said he was fine with offside as it stands.

“Our rule book’s pretty tight,” he said. “Offside’s offside. It’s black and white as far as I’m concerned.

“If you start messing around with different rules and different applications to the rules, then it gets confusing.”

Hathaway Headed for Hearing

Campbell said Washington Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway will have a hearing Wednesday after he spat on Anaheim Ducks defenceman Erik Gudbranson in a heated brawl.

Campbell, who indicated there could be a fine or suspension, said the fact Hathaway took an unexpected punch from Gudbranson before Tuesday’s incident would play a factor in the league’s decision.

Flames forward Garnet Hathaway
Former Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

“There’s always criteria that you have to consider,” said Campbell, the NHL’s former head disciplinarian. “I’m not new to this area. It’s been a while, but I did suspend over 450 players over 14 years.

“I’ve heard every possible reason why a player did what he did.”

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan called the situation “unfortunate.” 

“It’s an emotional reaction (by) a player that got caught up in it and had a couple guys coming after him,” he said. “(Hathaway) reacted, admittedly, in the wrong way. We’ll see what happens.”

Calvert Fallout

The Colorado Avalanche were left fuming Saturday when Matt Calvert was hit in the head from close range blocking a shot against the Canucks. On-ice officials allowed the play to continue as blood spilled from Calvert before Vancouver scored moments later.

The rule book states referees may — but don’t have to — blow the play dead when a player is seriously injured even if his team doesn’t have the puck.

“It seemed like an eternity in that game, even though it was closer to four or five seconds,” said Walkom, a former referee. “The puck was moving around, the guys were checking, the player attempted to get up.

Colorado Avalanche Pierre-Edouard Bellemare Matt Calvert
Colorado Avalanche’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare celebrates with Matt Calvert. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“Of course we would have liked to have blown the play down earlier.”

While it certainly wasn’t the case in this instance, Campbell said the league is always wary of players and teams embellishing to gain an edge.

“Look no further than why a goalie can’t have a warmup — coaches are competitive and they took the rule and they used it as timeout,” he said. “It’s no different when a player embellishes an injury.

“It’s a judgement call.”

Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka said he doesn’t think a rule change is needed to avoid similar situations in the future.

“Those are tough,” he said. “No one wants to see a player (get hurt) like that. The general consensus was if there’s a situation like that again and they recognize that’s the situation then certainly blow it dead.”

Tallon agreed, adding the on-ice officials need to use common sense.

“Sometimes you get it right,” he said. “The intent of the rule is to make sure somebody’s not (staying down) intentionally.

“But in that situation, we all agree there should have been a quick judgement there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press