The world of sports lends itself to all manner of water cooler debate: Which player would you rather have? Who’s the greatest of all time? How exactly are the Patriots cheating this week? And if you could change one rule, what would it be? Generally speaking the NHL’s done a decent job with theirs. You may get the odd fan grumbling about a puck over the glass resulting in a delay of game infraction or the infamous instigator rule, but by and large, it’s not a book fans want totally rewritten. However, if there’s one rule the NHL has right now that’s so incredibly irritating that it’s the Brad Marchand of NHL regulations, it’s a players skate so few millimeters off the ice they’d need NASA to calculate it, resulting in an offside.
Why Change It?
Let’s face it, we live in an era where there’re more entertainment options than ever, and attention spans are shorter than yours truly. Accordingly, the four major North American team sports are constantly looking at ways to speed up the game. Baseball is considering a pitch clock and instituted a signal for an intentional walk rather than make the pitcher throw four balls. The NFL and NBA have made similar strides to keep fans engaged. Hockey should be no different. Already known for its pace of play, the last thing the league needs is interminable reviews slowing things down to Jason Allison-esque levels. That’s not to say it should be devoid of them. Ultimately, you want to get the call right, and they have the technology to do so in timely fashion. That said the offside review is one that desperately needs to be addressed.
Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout the league wanted to get rid of the clutching and grabbing, focus on skill, increase offence and improve the pace and flow of the game. At first it worked like a charm. Scoring was up and speed and skill reigned. Then, as technology improved, the league took advantage and implemented more video reviews. As is often the case with the best of intentions, it didn’t always work as planned. Now coaches are scrambling to look at a tablet after a goal is scored to see if someone’s blade was hovering ever so slightly in the air, sometimes moments earlier. Imagine trying to explain this rule to someone new to the game.
What’s The Impact?
If they asked you, “Well what did that have to do with the play?” your answer would be? There isn’t one. It’s one thing if a player is clearly over the line before the puck is across… thank you Matt Duchene… but that’s not what we’re getting at here. This is strictly to do with those instances where a player’s skate is in the vicinity of the blue line, where if the blade was on the ice they’d be considered onside, thus not giving them an advantage, yet because their skate is the minutest amount elevated, the goal is taken off the board and we’re forced to sit through a painstaking review. Bare in mind, unlike reviewing goals that may have been knocked in with a high stick, these tend to drag on considerably longer due to the difficult nature of determining precisely where the skate is.
The main reason fans rail against this rule is some misguided notion that players would suddenly turn into Elvis Stojko upon crossing the blue line. This is about as ridiculous as the much maligned Sens winning the Cup this year. Would players drag their leg or stretch it back to ensure they’re onside? Sure. They do that (to an extent) now. But to assume they’d suddenly look like they were performing some sort of half-assed calisthenics routine is asinine. They wouldn’t be throwing their skates feet in the air with reckless abandon and taking themselves off stride, or risking injury, especially considering many, if not the majority of the challenges for this would be obsolete with a rule change. There’d be no need to alter anything about their stride. Besides, the very motion of skating, like running, will cause athletes feet to leave the ice as they power forward. Why they should be penalized for that is ridiculous at best.
What’s The Alternative?
The easy fix of course is to have the blue line extend upwards (not literally…) like the goal line in football. If the player’s skate is in the area of the blue line they’re considered onside. Simple as that. This would eliminate a significant percentage of offside reviews and give players one less thing to worry about when they enter the offensive zone. Ultimately there’s no significant downside. It would increase scoring, improve the overall pace of play (not to mention fan experience) and is just generally common sense…which alone may be reason the NHL will ignore it…