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The Offside Challenge is a Joke

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With a pair of goals waived off due to an alleged offside in two of the past three New Jersey Devils games, I look at why the offside challenge was originally put into play, and why it has devolved into a joke.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils have been on the receiving end of either some bad luck or bad officiating dependent upon how you look at it. Within their past 3 games, they’ve had 2 goals overturned, both on successful offside challenges by the opposing coach. In both cases, the call on the ice was that the play was onside and a good goal; the review would be where the issue would come in, as each time the play was within centimeters (possibly millimeters) of going either way.

The major problem is that this rule is another Bettman Blunder; there’s no consistency with how officials are supposed to call it and extended reviews that accompany challenges are sucking the life out of a game that is becoming more and more about speed. Teams (not just the Devils) are unfairly losing points or (in the case of Buffalo and St. Louis) earning points that they more than likely would not have had the initial calls stood. While it may not be that big of a deal in the moment, poor calls like the ones we’ve seen that take 2 points from a team in a stacked division could be the difference between the playoffs and the golf course.

I understand why the rule exists; plays such as this Matt Duchene goal from a few years back resulted in a need for a replay challenge; actually maybe it’s just the terrible officiating that seems to be par for the NHL’s course but (at least for this moment) I digress. The issue currently is that the challenge isn’t being used for plays such as the linked video; in most cases, coaches are simply challenging any play that is close to being offside in an attempt to either slow a team’s momentum, or keep a score closer. The addition of a penalty this year for an incorrect challenge hasn’t seemed to be that much of a deterrent either; we’re not seeing egregious use of the challenge like last season, but at the same time it’s super close plays being challenged, not Duchene-esque plays.

Part of the fun of the NHL is watching your team fly up the ice, pot a goal, and celebrating said goal along with them, be it in the arena or from the couch at home. Fans and players alike shouldn’t have to worry that fractions of an inch/centimeter/millimeter are enough to overturn a play, especially one where the alleged infraction had NOTHING to do with the eventual goal. Against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, the Blues had control of the puck, played it around in the zone, made a careless turnover, and got burned for it. The Devils made a complete change in forward personnel by the time the play ended; Marcus Johansson’s carry into the zone had no bearing on how the rest of the play turned out whatsoever, yet it was what wiped out Jesper Bratt’s go-ahead goal.

The review from start to finish (initiation to referee announcement on the ice) took over 5 minutes; as I’m an out of market viewer that has to watch via NHL.tv, I was able to time it. Not only does a 5 minute review imply that there is nothing conclusive to overturn the call on the ice, it kills the momentum that New Jersey had from finally seizing a lead in what was a tight, competitive game. Something needs to be done here to either amend the rule, eliminate the challenge, or as I have stressed in many past articles, get referees on the same page so that these ridiculously close, terribly long challenges that kill a game’s momentum no longer happen.

Maybe it’s the offside rule itself that needs change, because as it stands right now, a player can have most of his body in the neutral zone and still be offside if the skate that is in the neutral zone is off of the ice. To me, that’s absurd; the blue lines help define the different planes/zones of the ice. We have a game being played in 3D with plays being determined by literally touching a 2D line; shouldn’t it be more about the player’s positioning relative to the puck’s positioning when entering the zone, rather than where both are in terms of a flat line? It just feels like an antiquated definition of what an offside play entails.

If the rule isn’t the issue, then the officiating needs to get it’s act together, because it is costing this league its reputation and preventing teams from making new fans. I don’t know about you, but if I was a casual fan or a kid seeing NHL games for the first time, the last thing I would want them to experience would be seeing both of these overturned goals within a week of each other. Officials should be instructed that if it takes longer than 90-120 seconds to conclusively overturn the call on the ice, then there isn’t conclusive proof and the initial call on the ice should stand. Additionally, I would like to see them trained to avoid overturning a goal on a weak offside such as the two we’ve had to endure. It’s one thing if the player was a well offside and the linesman was screened and unable to see it, but don’t turn the NHL into the NFL where we need a piece of paper to determine if a skate was touching the line or not.

Remember folks, neither of the following pair of screencaps are legal plays that could lead to a goal:

Taylor Hall Offside from 12/29/17
Marcus Johansson Offside from 1/2/18

But this one is:

Six Capitals on Ice Allowed Goal

Today’s NHL and it’s officials ladies and gentlemen!

What do you think of the offside challenge rule; do you think it needs to be removed from the game? Do you think the offside rule needs to be modified or that challenges should only overturn calls on the ice if they’re similar to Duchene’s goal? Do you think the problem is simply consistency among officials? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!