There’s a new rule in the NHL this year. You may have heard about it. It’s a rule we all wanted, it’s working pretty much exactly as designed, and it’s being applied often. And hockey fans hate it.
It’s the offside review rule, and if this is the first you’re hearing about it, go find a hockey fan and ask them how it’s going. Then get ready for a healthy dose of sputtering rage. Because right now, the offside review rule is ruining everything.
So what is this new rule, and why is everyone so angry about it? It gets a bit complicated, so let’s do this Q&A style.
What is the offside review and where did it come from?
The rule is a new one, introduced for this season. It allows for an instant replay review on any zone entry where a goal is scored before the puck comes back out, to see if the play may have been offside. The reviews are initiated by a coach’s challenge until the final minute of regulation; after that, including overtime, the league automatically reviews everything.
Hockey’s offside rule is relatively straightforward – basically, the puck has to cross the opposing blueline before any players have completely entered the zone. But hockey is a fast game, and players have been taught to try to time their zone entries so that they cross the line at the exact moment the puck does. So we’re talking about plays that can be decided by a fraction of an inch and a fraction of a second.
OK, so the officials were missing those calls fairly often?
No! Well, at least we didn’t think they were. Which is kind of where the problem comes in. We’ll get to that in a second.
But no, the idea here wasn’t that there was some sort of epidemic of missed calls. Instead, there had been a handful of notable cases in which an offside was clearly missed. The most famous had been this Matt Duchene goal from 2013, in which he’d been allowed to score even though he was clearly offside by several feet.
That was such an obvious mistake that it seemed like the sort of thing that replay should be able to step in and fix, and there were calls for the league to consider a review process at the time. But the real tipping point came in last year’s playoffs, when the Lightning scored an overtime winner against Montreal that appeared to be offside. That play wasn’t as comically obvious as the Duchene call, but the stakes were so much higher that plenty of fans and media began asking why the NHL wasn’t making absolutely sure they got these calls right.
And so, last summer, the NHL introduced the replay review rule. (They also introduced a review for goaltender interference, which has come under occasional fire but seems to be working more or less as expected.) To be clear: Almost everyone thought this was a good idea. And we all assumed that it would come up maybe a few times all season long.
Yeah, it turns out that NHL linesman have been secretly terrible at calling offside.