NHL's Tweak to Offside Review Rule Is Smart Way to Boost Scoring

Teams that lose an offside review challenge will now be handed a minor penalty, which should lead to more goals. That's a good thing.
September 7, 2017, 6:51pm
Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When the NHL announced that coaches were going to be able to challenge goals on the basis of offsides, most people immediately thought of Matt Duchene's goal against the Nashville Predators in February 2013.

That was a goal that clearly shouldn't have counted, and including a way to reverse the call seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, the real result was losing a significant number of goals due to players being a half-inch over the line, or lifting their back foot off the ice a half-second too early. Or, in the case of the Predators, losing a legitimate goal in the Stanley Cup Final because sometimes reviews just get it wrong.

When you go strictly by the rule book, those borderline offside calls that took goals away were the correct calls, but in the NHL rules generally aren't enforced that strictly. And even if you are in support of reviewing offsides, you'd have a difficult time honestly defending how one player being ahead of another by a hair in a specific area harms the integrity of a goal.

As with any rule that's designed to give coaches an edge, the bench bosses took that advantage and built on it—challenging offsides seemingly every game, sometimes knowing they would lose the challenge and using the delay as a timeout that lasts much longer than their actual timeout would.


Whether it's because it takes goals away or slows down the game, there has been a lot of resentment toward the offside challenge, which was implemented for the start of the 2015-16 season. The NHL, however, claimed at the end of last season that it worked the way the league intended.

That claim seems to have been saving face, though, as Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports that the league is changing the rule so that a failed offside challenge results in a two-minute bench minor penalty, a clear incentive to not challenge offsides if you're not sure the goal call will be reversed.

Considering the constant erosion of goals in hockey, adding a counter incentive to a rule that allows for goals to be taken away is pretty smart. Just like the NHL punishes teams for failed stick measurements, a challenge we haven't seen in some time, this should cut down on dead time during the broadcast as well.

Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The implication of the rule change is fairly severe, as a lost challenge not only means a penalty to kill, but a goal that may not have counted does as well. An offside challenge now could potentially result in a two-goal swing against the challenging team if it's too casual in issuing a challenge.

When you consider that powerplay opportunities continue to disappear across the NHL, declining for 10 of the last 11 seasons from 5.85 per team per game in 2005-06 to just 2.99 in 2016-17, that bench minor becomes even more important.


Scoring did actually rise in the NHL last season by 0.18 goals per game, the most since 2008-09, but this move should lead to more goals in 2017-18 as well—both by challenges becoming less frequent, and a couple extra powerplays here and there.

The only question I have left regarding this rule is whether it goes far enough? By and large linesmen do a brilliant job calling offsides, which is an incredibly difficult call to get right in the moment at the rate of speed the game is played. Seeing how often they did get it wrong, however, made me wonder how frequently they get it wrong the other way around?

How many rushes per year are called dead on offsides that aren't actually offside? Even if it's half as many that are missed the other way around, you're likely losing potential good goals on plays that shouldn't be called dead.

More than that, issues like the raised back skate that have no impact on the actual gameplay seem to be artifacts of history that don't have a place in the modern game. How much easier would offside reviews be if the back skate being on the ice didn't matter as long as it was behind the blueline? How many offside calls would go away?

Small adjustments to the rule would make it far more difficult to defend the blueline, which in turn would create more opportunities off the rush, fewer dump ins, and significantly more offense, something the game desperately needs.

Now that the offside challenge is on the books, it's unlikely to go away. But hopefully this is the first of a few adjustments to offside calls over the next few years because, like the red line in the early-2000s, it's an area of the game that's ripe for change.