NHL Offside Video Reviews are Indefensibly Stupid

For every issue, it’s always important to hear out both sides of an argument. Sometimes, however, one side of an argument is so bad that it’s simply indefensible. The NHL offside video review process is one of those arguments.

All hockey fans were reminded of this quirky NHL practice in Stanley Cup Finals Game 1. There, an early goal by Nashville was disallowed. As with most of these reviews, the infraction was extremely minor, and bore scant relation to the goal being scored. Also similar to many reviews, when play was stopped for a video review of the goal, 95+% of the spectators wouldn’t have any clue what is possibly being reviewed until the tape is wound back. Before we even get in to the details of the review process, that’s already a major red flag for the rule enforcement process.

So why does the NHL even do this? Well the case for it is simple–it’s a cut and dry rule in the rulebook. If we can get it right on video, why not? Then we’ll never have a situation like this again. Seems simple enough.

The reasons against the rule are more subtle, but numerous. While there is a very interesting case to be made to change the offside rule itself, or get rid of offsides altogether, we need not present such big questions at this point. The ultimately reality is that offsides shouldn’t be enforced with such arduous computer-assisted precision.

In a game that flows like hockey, blue line zone entries often occur multiple times a minute. It’s part of the flow of the game, and no sane player or fan ever expected them to be enforced with machine precision. On the surface this sounds like willful negligence of rule enforcement, but consider analogous situations.

Baseball doesn’t allow for video reviews of balls and strike, while computers and cameras certainly COULD objectively determine if a ball is over the plate or not. The NFL doesn’t stop the game to allow lengthy, un-timed, frame-by-frame reviews of whether an offensive linesmen moved 1/10th of a second early for a false start. The NBA certainly doesn’t allow for review of traveling or ball carries. Even the NHL doesn’t review if players lineup and execute faceoffs in accordance to the rules and ice markings, nor does  it allow coaches to challenge for a frame-by-frame review of whether a player icing the puck reached the red line.

These are all black-and-white rules that a computer and cameras could identify with 99% certainty. If you’re going to take the stand that rules are rules and should be enforced whenever possible, you also must say that there should be video review for every aforementioned scenario. The case that “it’s in the rulebook and goals are important, thus we should review it” simply doesn’t hold water.

Furthermore, the NHL isn’t even adhering to good video review practice in the offsides challenge. For instance, the NFL has a time limit on reviews to prevent the game from being slowed down and momentum from being killed.

Another problem is that the NHL places no limits on the connection between the offsides infraction and the eventual goal. The infraction could be 40 seconds earlier and long forgotten, but if it’s a continuous keep in the zone they’ll waive the goal. This is like the baseball example of pitch review above, but going back 3, 4, or 5 pitches as long as it’s the same at-bat and thus the same sequence of related plays. Ridiculous.

The bottom line is the NHL video review is completely indefensible. It’s an objectively bad review process applied to meaningless, indetectable infractions. Micro-offsides simply aren’t a problem worth all this fuss. If we have to go back 4 years to find a bad missed offsides call, or go back 37 years for a meaningful offsides goal in the playoffs, the NHL is throwing out the baby with the bathwater trying to fix a problem that never existed in the first place.

Even if the NHL wants to make an bizarre stand on offsides infractions, there are so many obvious ways to improve the process:

  • Place a time limit on reviews. If you can’t find indisputable video evidence in 60 seconds, then it’s not worth overturning.
  • Place a time limit on when coaches can issue a challenge. None of this watch the iPad for 45 seconds and then challenge. The coaches must make the challenge immediately after goal without time to scour replays, and thus would only do so if the offsides is egregious and detectable at human, game speed.
  • Place a time limit or other constraint on the connection between the infraction and the goal scoring sequence.
  • Toss offsides altogether.

In short, the NHL offsides video review process is dumb. There is no defense for it, and the NHL declining to adjust it after this season indefensible. It’s definitely the worst decision since the ‘skate-in-the-crease’ rule of the 90s. Remember in that case the rule was only changed after a triple-overtime, Stanley Cup winning goal counted despite violating another indefensibly stupid rule. Let’s not wait that long to fix an equally dumb NHL rule.

Image credit: Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images


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