The blatant non-call of Matt Duchene’s off-sides-goal play in 2013 has seemingly changed the game in the NHL…possibly in a negative fashion. The NHL, the players, and the fans alike wanted to join the 21st century and put technology into the referee’s and linesmen’s hands in order to give them a chance to make the correct call at crucial moments.
Enter the coaches challenge into the NHL. There are two major instances where a coach can challenge a play (that lead to a goal); for possible goalie interference and possible off-sides. The goalie interference challenge is pretty self-explanatory, as it normally occurs right before the puck crosses the goal line. This instance of replay isn’t an issue. The off-sides challenge is the real problem.
First let’s look at the NHL has distinct language in their rule book…“RULE 83 – OFF-SIDES:83.1 Off-sides – Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player’s skate and note that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.
A player is ON-SIDE when either of his skates are IN CONTACT with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick. However, a player actually controlling the puck shall not be considered “off-side,” provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”
This means that if you have one skate inside the offensive zone, and your other skate is in the air/off the ice but directly above the blue line (not across it) you are still considered off-side. It has been the latter part of that statement that has led many people to question the rule in itself especially with this new challenge system.
It seems that almost every game involves at least one off-sides challenge and all you need to do is turn to twitter to see the outrage it causes (from both teams’ fans). The challenge is causing an issue because in some instances, the goals do not occur shortly after the off-side occurred, but instead it sometimes lasts a few minutes after. So the argument here is that the off-side play didn’t even effect the following play so the challenge is waste of time in general. This would be different if the plays that are being challenged are like the Matt Duchene play mentioned at the beginning of this article…
but instead the ones that are being challenged are like this Michael Grabner play from 2/28/17…
The idea of the coach’s challenge was to avoid the Duchene play from happening again, NOT the Grabner instance. At what point are we taking the linesmen officials out of the game if this continues? Many people have given ideas for the NHL to consider to fix the off-sides rule and the off-sides challenge and I truly believe Gary Bettman needs to listen to these concepts.
1. Change the language of the rule. Make it so a skate DOES NOT have to be touching the blue line to be considered on-side. Instead, as Steve Valiquette mentioned on the MSG post-game, make the blue line an imaginary vertical wall and as long as a player’s skate is equal to this wall (in the air or on the ice) that player should be considered on-side.
2. Put a time limit on the ability to challenge. This doesn’t mean a time limit for the coach to make a decision to challenge, but it is a time limit for the play following an apparent off-sides to still be able to challenge. For example, if a team enters the offensive zone and has control of the puck and remains in the zone for a certain amount of time (perhaps 1 minute 30 seconds, 1 minute 45 seconds etc..) the zone-entering play should NOT be able to be challenged. Besides, if the NHL linesman on site was unable to determine off-sides at the moment it happened, it was probably way too close to call which makes it A COMPLETELY different type of play than that of Matt Duchene in 2013. If you want to make these bang-bang type of zone entries to constantly be challenged, you might as well rethink having actual linesmen at the games because it ultimately makes their job meaningless.
3. Make the blue line more narrow. If the blue line was skinnier, it would be remarkably easier to determine when the puck crosses the line compared to a players skate. It is a common mindset that the current wide-blue line makes it very difficult to keep an eye on both factors (skate + puck). This change would make the linesmen’s jobs that much easier.
4. This one isn’t so much as a rule as a general statement. If during a challenge the officials take an extended period of time attempting to determine if a play was in the wrong or not…that is probably because the play was WAY too close to call. These challenges are intended for the blatantly obvious, missed calls. Not the millimeter plays. This extended period of time wasted on a replay can have major impacts on the actual game. Momentum after scoring a goal can be wiped away, whether the goal counted or not. Instead of assisting in the flow of the game…this system is helping to ruin it. Sure…by the letter of the law, ALL off-sides plays should not be allowed to continue and should be stopped right away. However, with the human aspect of officiating, sometimes the “too close to call” plays will slip through the cracks. This isn’t a bad thing though…I will gladly accept these plays (even if it goes against my beloved NYR) as long as the MAJOR instances (i.e. what this challenge rule was originally made for) are challenged.
(current challenge statistics across the NHL)
Statistics Image: @Dave_Stubbs via Twitter
Author: @BenR_Experience via Twitter.com