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  • The NHL and its fans needs to figure out the offside coach’s challenge


    How important is getting the call right? I ask because video review of certain plays, as well as challenges have come under serious scrutiny from talking heads and fans alike. It’s an odd paradox for fans that want a game perfectly called, yet also understanding that officials are human and can make mistakes. Fans are seemingly OK with human error all of a sudden.

    Yet, I, just like you, was up in arms, during the infamous “OR-gate” in the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Avalanche. The rule of offside was litigated heavily on the play that led to the game-tying goal in Game 5 of the series. If you remember:

    P.A. Parenteau went on to score the game-tying goal. Game 5 then went the way of the Avalanche. However, if this goal had been disallowed, the Wild may have been able to hold on for the final 1:14 of the game and gained an important victory in the series.

    It was an egregious mistake by the linesman, and one that led to the eventual adoption of the coach’s challenge for offside plays. See, the rule for offside states that the a skate must remain in contact with the ice in the neutral zone in order for the player to be considered onside. This means that the blue line is not a vertical plane that extends to infinity above the line like we see with the goal line marking the end zone in football. Yet some want to either see an end to the offside challenge, or, even changing the offside rule.

    Hockey rules like the offside rule assumes that the game is played two-dimensional, where the puck is constantly on the ice sliding from zone to zone. The lines on the ice and the “contact” clause of the rule almost ensures that humans conform to the two dimensions of the flat ice surface. By changing the rule to be a vertical plane, it helps adapt to the more realistic three-dimensional aspects of the way the game is truly played, and one that is more natural to humans.

    I completely understand that perhaps a rule change could be in order. However, that’s not the rule as it is currently written, and a player’s skate still must be in contact with ice on neutral zone side of the blue line until the puck fully crosses the forward edge of the line. This will continue to be challenged by coaches. And in the nature of getting the calls right on the ice, if the play is offside, the play is offside.

    I often see people ask, “why are we delaying the game to review a matter of inches?” So I wonder if fans want the game called right, or if we’re OK with bending the rules simply because we don’t want delays for a few minutes?

    And that’s the struggle for all of the professional leagues across North America.

    The NBA, the NFL, and MLB all have replay reviews or certain challenge rules installed to, “get the call right,” like the NHL. And all these leagues, like the NHL, struggle with keeping the game moving along, providing an entertaining game, and still attempting to call game in accordance with the rules.

    Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner said, “On one hand you’d like to get every call right if you can review it on replay, but if we were to do that, it would probably lead to a five-hour game. And that’s balanced against the ebb-and-flow of keeping it an entertaining product,” on NBA.com in 2014. The NFL has fought with the number of reviews and looked to make significant changes to the official review process in order to speed up games and improve the viewing experience. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner sent an open letter to fans back in March about the steps they were taking to improve the game experience stating that by bringing video tablets out to the referee and in consultation with the officiating headquarters at the league office this will, “improve the consistency and accuracy of decisions and help speed up the process.” Major League Baseball has tried to maintain limits on official reviews, but has some fans clamoring for more technology to be used in the game.

    We’re at a crossroads as fans. What do we want out of spectator sports? Do we want the call right or do we want game flow? Are we willing to accept that a bad call, or missed call, will likely go against our favorite teams at one point or another?

    As for the offside rule and coach’s challenge, there are two ways to go about this: either the NHL does away with the offside challenge, or it changes the rule, knowing that it won’t, at all, fix the issues of making offside calls any more clearer, accurate, or even speed up and/or reduce the amount of challenges.

    Personally, I’m completely fine with the way offside is currently called. It has been the way the game has been called for decades. Sure, I’m probably sounding like the crusty old hockey fan that never wants to see changes in the game. But I guess, for me, dragging a skate, or hesitating even the slightest at the blue line has never seemed to hold players back in the past in an effort to stay onside. Players know the rule and adapt accordingly and if the play is offside, then it’s offside. The play should be whistled dead in accordance with the rule. It’s be a shame that a team lose a playoff game because of a matter inches, but that’s what they hockey is.

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