Offside review has become a detriment, not a benefit to the NHL

The clamor over adding a coach’s challenge to the NHL game wasn’t necessarily deafening, but it wasn’t silent either. Over the past few seasons various occurrences (looking at you Matt Duchene) led to a stronger case for teams to have the ability to review certain plays on the ice. Beginning this season the league obliged and provided coaches the ability to challenge one play per game.

It’s become a disaster.

Instituting a coach’s review for goalie interference or offside plays was brilliant, in principle. Mounting examples of each play made for a strong case to give coaches this option and the league was wise to research it and ultimately institute it. The negative impact continues to mount, however and it would seem wise of the league to backtrack on the offside rule at the very least.

Okay, now show me where Angry Birds is again.

The length of the reviews and the size of the tablets used by officials have been the focal point of the new system’s naysayers. That coaches have managed to use the new system as a loophole for much longer timeouts has been another unexpected consequence. The flaws are really coming to the forefront as more and more plays are flagged for review.

I will add that while I am a Sabres fan, my view on the rule does not reflect that Buffalo has been victimized four different times on offside reviews. While that sad bit of irony likely irritates many in the Buffalo fanbase, my criticism rests solely on the flaws I see in reviewing offside plays.

In fact, I’ve grown so tired of the offside review that it upsets me to hear and read the narrative bemoaning the tablets and length of the reviews. While those two features are certainly giant red flags, nothing outweighs the fact that a goal starved league created a rule which removes goals which would otherwise be perfectly legal. There are many out there crying to change the size of the nets – a fundamental alteration of the fabric of the game – while there’s a brand new rule stripping goals off the board.

You can note the energy being sucked out of the arena, the disruption of flow in the game or really any other claim on the laundry list of issues with this system. Nothing eclipses a goal starved league instituting a rule to eliminate goals.

One thing worth noting is that arguing that an offside play doesn’t affect a goal is a flawed argument, in my opinion. Whether a team possesses the puck for five seconds or five minutes before scoring, that possession was started upon gaining the zone. Thus, if the team was offside upon entry – no matter how long it took before scoring – the entire sequence would be rendered moot. Now, I’m all for arguing about how much advantage a player gains by being an inch offside, but I won’t argue with the black-and-white of the rule. That being that if the team entered the zone offside, nothing they do in the zone after that should stand; no matter how long the possession lasts.

Someone made a great analogy to this rule on Twitter (I don’t remember who) that hit home with me. They said this is like giving NBA coaches the ability to challenge any layup or dunk on account of traveling. Given that so many of these offside plays couldn’t or wouldn’t be made with the naked eye really adds to the frustration for me.

Offside plays prior to this year were made on paper-thin margins which are now being magnified that much more. This is a rule which the league has instituted which has already spiraled out of control. We’re talking about plays which are a hair offside (or less) that are being lumped into the same bag as the Duchene play. By the letter of the law, the league is making the right call. But the spirit and flow of the game, which for the last 99 years hasn’t been affected by plays on such narrow margins being reviewed, has been dramatically altered.

One of the larger arguments against replay as a whole is the correlation to the NFL. The snail’s pace of NFL games bogged down by replay review has been a focus of fans and media alike. It can’t please the NHL that their brand new replay measure is already drawing so many comparisons to one of the most loathed and laughable features of Sunday afternoons. In fact, there’s even potential for the NHL to become even more like the No Fun League if an alteration to the offside review that Damien Cox touched on is instituted.

The league may also look at changing the offside rule. Rather than a player having to have at least a toe on the ice on the blue-line when the puck crosses the line, the standard would be the player could not be completely across the inside plane of the blueline before the puck. – Damien Cox

Boy, I can’t wait to compare is he offside to what is a catch. Sounds like a ton of fun.

For what it’s worth, giving that added margin to players – as silly as the wording and enforcement would likely become – is a good decision. It also really underscores how stupid the offside review is.

My biggest beef will remain the impact is has on the offensive side of the game. Sure, the reviews are long and boring but it’s being done in the spirit of getting the call right. So I can at least give that a pass. Although the potential butterfly effect this could have on the game is an added concern of mine.

As more goals are reversed due to offside reviews (close or otherwise) I worry that linesmen will begin erring on the side of caution when it comes to close plays. Rather than letting narrow zone entries go by, linesmen could conceivably develop a quick trigger finger out of fear of getting a call wrong. Should that develop – and I feel that it could, in short order – you wouldn’t just be pulling goals off the board, you’d be stopping attacking rushes altogether. That will slow games to a crawl, add stoppage time and drag down scoring opportunities out of fear of getting a call wrong. Then the league won’t just have a rule that takes goals off the board but they’ll have a rule that has contributed to stifle offensive play in general.

My last argument for abolishing the offside review comes from my time playing the game. The best thing about hockey is the fast-paced, free-flowing nature of the game. It’s a game decided by inches and up until this year we all got along just fine with linesmen making a very difficult call without assistance. It’s a razor thin margin of error and while some of this year’s reversed calls have been obvious, many have been narrowly offside. No narrow, in fact, that I’d be amazed if any linesmen would have deemed the play illegal at any point in league history.

Yes, the rules state that a player must not enter the zone ahead of the puck. However, if Patrick Sharp’s heel passes the blueline in the four-tenth’s of a second that it takes the puck to progress over the line, is it fair to expect the official to make that call? Is it fair to think that tiny, minute advantage really affected the goal that would follow? Once again, does it make sense for a league that’s debating changing the size of their goals to have a rule that eliminates offense?

The NHL wasn’t a flawed game without offside review and it wouldn’t become flawed if the rule was repealed. While it made sense in theory, the consequences really outweigh the benefits.

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