In Defense of the NHL Using Replay to Change Offside Calls

The arguments against using replay to change offside calls that result in goals are mind bogglingly bad.

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Feb 21 2017, 4:02pm

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan McDonagh was offside. Blatantly offside. He was so clearly offside that it took about 15 seconds for officials to overturn Mika Zibanejad's first-period goal on Sunday. It was perhaps the most efficient use of the coach's challenge since the NHL implemented it before the 2015-16 season.

Yet it made everyone mad.

Why?

Because people—even progressive people—hate change.

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Twenty-four goals that were scored when a player was offside have been reversed this season thanks to the coach's challenge. Allowing coaches to challenge for offside prior to a goal came largely in response to a goal scored by Matt Duchene against the Nashville Predators in 2013, when he was comically offside.

If someone were writing a remake of The Naked Gun and wanted to change the scene in which Frank Drebin is an umpire to one in which he's an NHL linesman, this is the call he would make to allow a tying goal that keeps the game going to save the Queen's life:

One full season later—light speed for change in the NHL—we have a rule in place to make sure this never happens again. And nobody is happy.

Let's look at the arguments against overturning offside goals, which are proof that people will find a reason to be upset with almost anything.

Marian Hossa was barely offside in a game against the New York Rangers this season, and it cost his team a goal. You can argue that Hossa being a millimeter or two ahead of the play did not matter, but he was, and that's the rule. It was enforced properly. Offside, no goal.

Here's what Hossa said after that game in December.

"With today's technology, with this new rule, it's a game of inches and it's slowing the game down. You're getting confused, like what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we have to deal with it. But I think it's frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and more goals are disallowed because of this one. When there's 2 feet or 3 feet offside it's nice to challenge it and sometimes the referee makes a mistake but this is really game of inches."

Marian, buddy, what the hell does that mean? You're getting confused? Offside is still offside. The rule is exactly the same as it was when you first picked up a stick as a child. Coaches are looking for whether you entered the zone legally. It should not be confusing.

Reviews are slowing the game down? Fine, but you know what helps the game not slow down? Staying onside before your team scores a goal.

The league wants to increase scoring? It sure does. But it doesn't want to increase, you know, illegal scoring. What sort of complaint is this? I took off my skate and slit the goalie's throat before I scored, yeah, but the NHL wants to take that goal off the board? It's confusing. What are coaches looking for? No attempted murder before goals? If the league wants to increase scoring, it should let me do whatever I want before goals.

Hossa's flimsy, sour grapes rationale is the worst of the arguments against reviewing offside. Here's another one: What if the offside player has nothing to do with the goal that is scored? McDonagh had nothing to with that Zibanejad goal, but now you're taking the goal away?

Yes, nameless person. Yes. That's how penalties work. A penalty doesn't have to be called against someone directly involved with a scoring play; you'd never call too many men on the ice penalties using that reasoning because the sixth skater is always someone near the bench that is 80 feet from the puck.

Take, for example, the opening scene of the 1991 sports documentary The Last Boy Scout. Billy Cole runs for a touchdown but shoots like six guys on his way to the end zone. Easy call. A no-brainer unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. You walk off 15 yards from the spot of Cole's first murder and eject him from the game. No touchdown.

But let's say that after Cole broke through the line of scrimmage and was into the secondary, the L.A. Stallions quarterback went all John Wick on the Cleveland defensive line and started double tapping them in the skull. You're still calling back Cole's touchdown run on account of the murders.

If you want fewer murderous examples, what about when a quarterback gets a defensive end slightly offside with a hard count, and that dude never gets any pressure on the quarterback? Or when a quarterback snaps the ball while a guy is trying to run off the field but he's the 12th man and that's a free play? Or when a defensive back is called for holding a receiver and the quarterback never even looked that way?

Man, football has a lot of nonsense penalties, huh?

Again, offside is offside. The rule states a player can't enter the zone before the puck; it doesn't state that a player can't enter the zone before the puck but it's cool if that dude isn't involved in the goal and the ref can decide just how involved he was in that goal afterward.

It's offside. Same rule that's been on the books for a century.

The last argument against overturning goals for offside is my favorite. It's something Hossa touched on, too: the idea that it's OK to be offside when a goal is scored well after the illegal zone entry—not in the same fashion as the hilarious Duchene goal. Basically, an offside call at this point would not be in the "spirit of the rule" or something like that. That offside happened so long ago that it shouldn't matter!

Mika Zibanejad's goal against the Capitals on Sunday was overturned when replays showed teammate Ryan McDonagh was offside. Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

When Zibanejad scored his goal, it was 25 seconds after McDonagh was offside. The logic behind this being a problem escapes me, as if there should be a statute of limitations for an on-ice crime.

"That call is such crap."

"Was McDonagh offside?"

"Oh, definitely. Very obviously."

"So overturning the goal was good?"

"No, it was bad. Twenty-five seconds had passed."

"What if they had whistled the play dead at the moment the play was offside?"

"That's fine."

"But not 25 seconds later?"

"No."

"Why?"

"You know how criminals get away with crimes if enough time has ... hey, Dave, where are you going?"

The NHL suspends players for hits on the ice that don't result in penalties, and those suspensions happen days later. College teams have national championships vacated years later when violations are discovered. Bernie Mac had three hits taken away in Mr. 3000 about a decade after he retired. The Omega 13 in Galaxy Quest allowed the crew to go back in time 13 seconds to correct ... you get it.

A mistake should be always allowed to be corrected if it can be done in a reasonable way.

The cry in all sports with video review was always, "As long as they get the call right." Somehow offside in hockey is developing an immunity to this. Unless the NHL decides to allow skaters to enter the zone ahead of the puck—they should—the system in place now is the best one for preventing illegal goals, no matter how much time has passed after the infraction, or how badly Hossa wants his team's illegal goals to count.

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