Rethinking Offside Penalties in the NHL

Picture this: It’s the playoffs. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Sudden-death OT. Your favorite player flips the puck onto his helmet, leapfrogs three defenders, and blasts the puck into the net using telekinesis. Your team wins. The crowd goes wild, seven people are maimed in the celebration, and you forgive that one guy (you know the one) for that time he inadvertently cursed your team for all eternity.

Just kidding. The goal is under review. Turns out the lace of some dude’s skate was half an inch over the blue line 53 seconds ago, so the goal is waved off. Oh, and the other team scores three seconds later, and you lose the Cup. Bummer. But hey, rules are rules!

It’s all about fairness. When the hockey gods shined their light down from the tallest mountain in the wilderness, known as “Canada,” they had one thing in mind: they wanted their rules to be followed to the letter.

If there’s anything the NHL needs in today’s craze for fast-paced action, it’s less scoring and more rule-mongering. The NHL recently put cameras right on the blue line to better review potential offside goals, but this rule doesn’t take it far enough. What else can we do to make certain that no unlawful goal is recorded into the books of hockey history?

First, let’s look at what the league is actually doing to ensure that no offside goal will ever count. Sure, the cameras cover the length of the blue line. That’s a pretty good start. But it’s only the horizontal plane. What about the overhead view? The third dimension? What if Lavos, Devourer of Time, skews the fourth dimension and therefore the integrity of the footage? There just aren’t enough checks and balances. Add more cameras, and maybe a physicist, to ensure that a play is not offside on a theoretical level.

Next, the review process itself. I don’t trust the reviewers in Toronto. Who are these mystery men, and how do they decide on these close calls? Democracy? Rock-paper-scissors? Simply doing the opposite of whatever Barry Melrose thinks? There are too many questions; we need a firm system of justice. We need law.

I propose a revamped review process similar to the judicial system of the federal government (disclaimer: I know nothing about my government). Any time a goal needs to be reviewed, it’s sent to League Court. Every franchise has a lawyer present, ready to argue any rulings. The lawyers battle it out in one-on-one duels of wits and hockey law. And it needs to be official. I’m talking artist’s renditions, surprise witnesses, and of course, an ultimate decision adjudicated by the Council of Nine. Live coverage of the game should cut to the courtroom when a goal is being reviewed. The league could double dip and turn it into a court show. Step aside, Judge Judy, because Judge Biz Nasty is here to lay down the hockey hammer of justice.

After that, we would have to review the review to make sure that all review processes led to correct and pure reviewing. Only after the dust settles can we truly deem it fair to continue the game.

But with all this technology, why settle? Why not review everything possible? Let’s put cameras on the red line to review icing calls. Let’s put cameras on the players’ gloves to check for hand passes, and cameras inside the goalie’s mind to tell if he knows whether the puck crossed the goal line. If it exists, it can be reviewed.

The issue here, though, is that now we’re bringing subjectivity into play. As the fans from [insert literally any NHL team here] will tell you, “These refs suck.” So, how do we take human error out of penalties? Get rid of penalties altogether. With no penalties, there would be less need for review, therefore further establishing the legitimacy of every goal. Of course, we could leave the most important penalties, like anything trapezoid-related, and just stash some more cameras back there for review.

But we can always do more! There’s an uproar every time the puck goes in on a potential kicked goal. What is a “distinct kicking motion,” anyway? Let’s get rid of the interpretation: any goal scored off of a skate should be disallowed. Similarly, we have to do the same for goals batted in with the glove. So: any goal that touches a glove would also be waved off. You know what, let’s just play it safe and call off any goal that doesn’t go in off a stick. But then we have goals scored with a high stick. What’s the solution? Cameras on crossbars? Too inconclusive.  A field of lasers at crossbar height that sets off an alarm, like a booby-trapped vault? It would be hard to see. We need to eliminate that possibility of a high-stick goal, so let’s just get rid of the stick altogether.

The game of hockey as we know it might look a little different when all is said and done (here’s one clairvoyant’s interpretation), but that’s the price of fairness. I’d also like to suggest replacing the scoreboard with a giant, Hubble Telescope-like camera to cover all areas of the ice with expert science.  We really won’t need the scoreboard anyway, since goals are now a thing of the past (which is good, since fewer goals means fewer errors).

But wait, there’s more! If there’s anything you should have learned from my musings, it’s that being fair is the prime objective. That, and that justice needs to be applied retroactively. I’m imploring–nay, demanding–that the NHL investigate previous games for rule violations, not only throughout this season, but for every recorded game in league history!

When a goal is overturned by an offside review, the clock is reset to the time of the infraction. Let’s do that, only let’s reset the clock back to the year of the earliest known infraction. Everything after that would be wiped out. It’s only fair! Who knows what would have happened if that second-period goal in the fourth week of the regular season of 1984 had been correctly waved off? It could have set off a chain of events that led to a 20-year Cup dynasty for the Leafs.

You think the Butterfly Effect is significant? A single missed offside call affects more lives than the most munificent philanthropist.


Scott Finger is a hockey writer based in Massachusetts. You should follow him on Twitter.


One Comments

  1. Post By breadstick25

    haha very funny

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