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Tom Mitsos The Hockey Writers

Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2017





Offside Rule: Should It Stay or Go?

It didn’t take long for the hockey world to start debating rule changes after a Nashville Predators goal was overturned during the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Around the seven-minute mark of the first period, the Predators’ Filip Forsberg received a pass as he entered the offensive zone. When the play happened, it was deemed onside. But after PK Subban scored about 16 seconds later, the Penguins challenged the call, and after review, the referees said Forsberg entered the zone before gaining possession of the puck, so the goal was overturned.

The Penguins went on to score three unanswered goals after the overturned goal. Of course, the overturned call prompted everyone and their mother to debate whether the NHL should eliminate offside challenges or the offside rule altogether.

Eliminate Offside Challenges

When the offside challenge rule was initiated, I was in favor of it. Hockey is a fast game, and anytime there is an opportunity to help the referees get a call right, I’m in favor of it.

The rule initially 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.

P.K. Subban (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

After seeing how the challenge is being used by coaches, something needs to change. In the case of Monday’s overturned goal, there were 16 seconds between Forsberg receiving the pass and Subban scoring. It would be one thing if Forsberg had entered the zone, took a shot and scored. However, the Predators lost possession of the puck while in the zone, regained possession and then scored.

If there is a rule that prohibits 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.

The challenges slow the game down, and they take away scoring, exactly what the NHL and fans don’t want. It’s not working the way the league intended it to, despite what Gary Bettman says.

Eliminate Offside Rule

While some want to get rid of offside challenges, there are those who want to get rid of offside entirely. While it would limit the number of stoppages, I’m not sure it would be an improvement.

Should the league eliminate the offside rule, that would give teams a much bigger attacking zone, essentially stretching it all the way to center ice. If an attacking team starts to feel pressure in the offensive zone, they can throw a puck back to center ice and try to attack again without having to leave the attacking zone, which would make for boring hockey should a team with a lead continue to throw the puck back to center ice every time it faces pressure.

The offside rule’s main purpose is to eliminate cherry pickers. If offside is eliminated, will that create a game of cherry picking, as teams attempt to make long-bomb passes for easy breakaways?

What’s the Solution?

There are pros and cons to each situation. There’s also the option of making the blue line a plane, so if a player’s skate is above it, rather than on the ice, he still is considered onside. I think eliminating the offside rule would change the game drastically and not the way people think it would.

And I think the league needs to have some sort of offside challenge to eliminate the egregious offside infractions that get missed, but challenging the plethora of plays that come down to a matter of inches is becoming too much.

I think keeping the offside rule is necessary, but there needs to be a change to the offside rule, whether it’s making the blue line a plane or adding a possession change or attack zone time provision that disallows coaches from using challenges if one of those criteria is met.

I don’t expect the league to make any changes, based on what Bettman said about the offside challenges. But in this case, I hope I’m proven wrong.


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