BOCA RATON, Fla. – The NHL offside rule dates to the 1929-30 season and the league’s general managers decided it was not the time to start redefining it now.
GMs elected not to change the offside rule, even though there had been considerable grousing this season about goals being disallowed by a video review because a player had a skate in the air and not on the ice.
Under current rule 83.1, a player is offside “when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line." A player is onside “when either of his skates are in contact with, or on his own side of the side of the line at the instant when the puck completely crosses the blue line.” That means a player with a skate above the blue line, but not touching it, is currently considered offside.
“We talked about it a lot,” Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “It always comes back to the fact that there are over 5,000 offsides and there were nine goals that were disallowed that would have been allowed if we change the rule.”
One proposal discussed was changing the rule to allow the blue line to expand to the plane of the blue line. In other words, it would be similar to the NFL touchdown standard. If a player’s skate was above the blue line, he would be considered as touching the blue line.
Statistics may have played a role in the decision. According to Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice president and director of hockey operations, the coach’s challenge has been invoked 100 times this season. Twenty-nine times it involved a skate in the air; 20 times the video was inconclusive, and nine times a goal would have been allowed had the blue-line plane rule been in place.
“There is some concern that if you have the skate in the air, so long as it's breaking the plane, now you have skates in the air and skate cuts can be nasty,” Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We're trying to keep the players skates on the ice at all times. The other number we saw is that the number of offsides is going down which is interesting.”
Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic likes how the video review, instituted last season, has worked on offside calls.
“We have a rule,” Sakic said. “We’ve had it forever. In my mind, you don’t have to change anything. It is what it is: puck’s got to get over the blue line. Video review is there for a reason and it’s working. You grow up as a kid and you know the rule, and it is what it is.”
Concern was raised about how much time is needed to review a play.
“It's a little over two minutes for both interference and offside,” Flietcher said. “That's not counting the time for the coach to make his decision. I'm sure it's a mixed bag in there. To me, I'm not sure once the call has been made that the referee should then have to go to the coach to explain the call he just explained. Once they made their decision, they're not changing their minds. It's video review, you've challenged it, you won or you lost and you move on. I think we can speed that up there. But also, I know how sensitive it is.”
Will NHL hockey operations department officials enter the playoffs worried about the possibility of a game being won and lost on a skate-in-the-air call?
"We always go into the playoffs nervous as hell," Campbell said. "There's always something. Someone may say well this only happened (nine) times, but bless his soul, (Philadelphia owner Ed) Snider, he never forgot the offside against the Islanders, nor did Calgary (people) forget about the play with (Martin) Gelinas, they felt the puck was across the line. They don't forget and we don't either, so we want to try to be perfect on every call. To answer your question, we're nervous no matter what. Something is going to happen. Murphy's Law, Mike Murphy's law."
Mike Murphy is the Campbell’s right-hand man.
NHL general manager will tackle another hot-button issue Wednesday when they discuss the bye week, the mandatory break for each team, which was implemented this season. This is a collective bargaining agreement issue, which would require NHL Players Association approval to change.
“A lot of our managers were a little upset with dealing with that," Campbell said. "A lot of them had to in the month of February, a shortened month. ... It was almost impossible to schedule."