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NHL changes offside rule heading into 2021 season

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A welcome change, for the most part.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Earlier today, the NHL and NHLPA jointly announced that they were making what could be a pretty significant change to the (somewhat) controversial offsides rule.

As you’re no doubt aware, the NHL has experienced a variety of “millimeters or maybe not” offside challenges over the past couple of years, with referees requiring 100x zoom lenses to try to determine if a player was onside or offside.

Good stuff, right?

One of the more frequent offside-related issues was whether or not a player’s skate was on the ice, with officials zooming in so far that we were analyzing hockey games on a pixel-by-pixel basis.

It’s crazy to do such a thing in game that’s so fast paced, and it would appear that the league and its players agree.

With that in mind, the two parties added a new section to Rule 83.1 that eliminates the need for a player’s skate to be on the ice for him to be considered onside.

That new section reads (emphasis ours):

A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line. On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.

Basically, if a player’s skate is in the air, but isn’t completely in the offensive zone, he’ll be considered onside.

This tweak eliminates the need for determining whether or not a player’s skate was touching the ice or was 2 mm off the ice.

It’s kind of like how the NFL treats the goal line with regard to “breaking the plane,” except players break the front (side closest to the field) of that plane, whereas NHL players will be breaking the back (side closest to the offensive zone) of the plane.

Planes, breaking, leading edges...all very important hockey terms.

If nothing else, this seems like a good, common-sense rule change from both sides.

I still think they should also tweak the offside review process and give the refs 30 seconds of replays at full-game speed to make the call, but that’s a fight for another day.