The NHL may be tweaking the rule for offside plays, but that change hasn’t taken effect just yet.
The league’s general managers voted in March to change the blueline to a vertical plane above the ice. No more would a player’s skate be required to remain in contact with the ice at the time the puck entered the zone.
“[The GMs] thought that it was tough watching a game, especially with our skilled players, when we see a nice goal being scored and there’s a delay and there’s a challenge, and we’re taking down good hockey goals because the guy’s toe is slightly off the ice or he’s in a crossing over motion where the majority of his body is still in the neutral zone but his skate is not touching the ice,” NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Kris King said in March.
“They felt a lot of times the guy that is offside isn’t even involved in the rush. They just felt the skate in the air really didn’t have a lot of bearing on any of these goals.”
The current offside rule (83.1) reads:
A player is onside 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.
The position of the player’s skates and not 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.
The NHL said that they may not need to revisit the wording of the rule, just its interpretation.
“It’s not a change in the rule,” King added. “It’s a change in the application of the rule to not be required to have contact with the ice but for the skate to be over the blue line when the puck crosses the line.”
The league has been debating the change since at least 2017, with concerns of player safety with skates in the air.
There was also the uncertainty as to whether the change in standard would make it more difficult for linesmen to make offside calls. King told NHL.com that the linesmen he’d spoken with felt that the plane may be easier to determine in real-time than whether or not the player’s skate was in contact with the ice surface.
The change may be made possible by the use of video replay, which the NHL has used to review 75 offside plays this season via Coach’s Challenge. Lower level leagues, particularly those without the benefit of video review or blueline cameras, may find it difficult to implement a similar change. This would result in a different standard at the NHL level, sometime both players and officials would have to adjust to.\
NHL.com’s Dan Rosen shared an interesting breakdown of skate-in-the-air offside challenges.
The NHL reported that 18 coach’s challenges through 1,015 games played this season have been for skate in the air plays, and of those 14 led to goals being removed. There were 26 skate in the air challenges through 1,015 games last season leading to 16 goals removed.
Of course, those numbers don’t take into account the changes in on-ice calls made by the linesmen under the newly-proposed standard.
The NHL’s Competition Committee typically meets in June to discuss potential rule changes. No word on when they’ll be convening prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.