The NHL sees room for improvement when it comes to offside challenges, and GMs will discuss potential changes to the rule at meetings in March. “We’re trying to make it fan-friendly, player-friendly, reduce as many bogus challenges as possible.”
Bruce Cassidy speaks with referee Francis Charron|Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Even though the NHL’s rules seem to be working when it comes to offside calls and coach’s challenges, the league has acknowledged that it still seems like a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Or at least a work in process. So stop us if you’ve heard this before, but they’re going to continue to work on it.
As the league’s 31 GMs met Tuesday in Toronto, video review, coaches’ challenges and offside were large topics of conversation. Because they always are and always will. Even though the league reported that the total number of coach’s challenges is down 32 percent from last season and the number of challenges overturned is at 58 percent, up from 32 percent last season, there is still some work to be done.
The league announced that at the next GM meetings in March, the group will once again take a look at amending the offside rule to waive off the call when a player’s skate blade is cutting across the plane of the blueline, but not physically touching the blueline. And the league will also look at the issue of possession and control as it pertains to offside calls.
“We’re going to discuss it again. Yeah, again,” said NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell. “I think it’s every year we got to look at all offense and there’s a lot of nights a goal scored on a foot in the air that you take back. We want to be fan-friendly and player-friendly and when a play goes on for 30 seconds, and then the goal is negated…We had three managers who spoke to it and felt that it maybe it’s time to do it.”
The possession and control issue reared its head on a goal by Charlie Coyle that was called back in a game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens that would have put the Bruins ahead 5-4 in the third period of a game they ultimately lost. The puck was between Coyle’s skates as he crossed the blueline, but after a lengthy review, it was called offside. “I think it’s more about interpreted changes relative to the rules,” said NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom. “That’s where the discussion today and we need to drill down on it. You know, it’s a complex rule. We only have five, five-and-a-half offside plays per game.”
It’s clear that the league is getting this right on a more regular basis, but like any system, there are kinks that need to be worked out. The league is really, really happy that scoring is up, comebacks are up and the length of games is down – something that seems to be bucking a trend in professional sports – but you get the feeling with this piece, there will always at least be some tweaking. Campbell said the league opted “to give our heads a shake,” and clean things up by imposing penalties for unsuccessful challenges, but there are times when the system is not perfect. He referenced last Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins that featured a lengthy delay.
“Our referee stayed over there way too long,” Campbell said. “So Stephen directed our officials, ‘Don’t go over the benches and stay there for debate.’ They should know the rules. They get a chance. They’re the ones that originally wanted the coach’s challenge. It’s called a coach’s challenge so we give them a coach’s challenge. We’re trying to make it fan-friendly, player-friendly, reduce as many bogus challenges as possible.”
In other news, the GMs voted unanimously to name the GM of the Year Award after former Leafs GM and longtime league employee Jim Gregory, who died last month at the age of 83. “This is a terrific tribute to a wonderful man by a group uniquely qualified to appreciate his many contributions to our game,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “During his tenure as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jim Gregory transformed the art of team-building. Through the many years he spent at the league, our general managers regularly sought his counsel. They universally revere his lifetime of service to the NHL.”
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.