Columnist image
Gary Lawless

TSN Senior Correspondent


No one wants an offside goal to count. Terrible way to lose a game, right? So offside review is a good idea in theory, even if it lacks a bit in the execution some times.

Sunday in Winnipeg, a second period offside challenge on a Jets power play goal took over five minutes. The goal stood but the wait was interminable and sucked the life out of the game. An earlier offside review this season took over nine minutes. Way too long.

Video review is great when it works but sticks out like an angry pimple when it’s clumsy.

Perception being reality for so many of us, the reviews that have taken too long and clogged up a game are the ones which stick out. The NHL, which doesn’t time reviews, needs to shorten the process. The evidence to overturn the call on the ice is there or it isn’t.

Certain plays can be argued all day. The camera angles available aren’t going to provide a definitive answer 100 per cent of the time. So move on. Have a look and determine if there is a clear answer one way or another. This should be about feet or even inches. Not millimeters. This is a failsafe to catch the rare but egregious misstep and shouldn’t devolve into an exercise in hairsplitting.

The linesmen do a good job. There are going to be situations where a player straddles the blue line and it’s unclear whether his back foot is on the ice or in the air. The evidence won’t always be conclusive. In those situations, the call on the ice should stand and this judgement should be made in a swifter fashion.

Optics play a part here and when a rink full of people as well as a TV audience are focused on a linesman staring at a 10-inch screen for a number of minutes listening to all three verses of Stompin Tom’s The Good Old Hockey Game and some excruciating in-house promo, the game loses steam and people question the process.

Get it right? Absolutely. At all costs? Sure, good with that too. But sometimes it’s just not there to see. No need to belabour it.

A big part of the issue is the NHL doesn’t have a direct feed for offside challenges and must rely on the network broadcast and replays to make their decision.

So what you’re watching at home, that’s what the linesmen are looking at from their vantage point in the penalty box. You have the luxury of a 60-inch plasma screen at home and you often get replays of the play prior to an official challenge.

So the linesmen have fewer looks on an inferior screen. The viewer at home has better info than the official making the decision.

Linesman, and hockey ops in Toronto for that matter, have to wait for the TV show to collect replays and different angles and then relay them to the viewers which in these cases includes the decision makers. It’s awkward and needs to be made more efficient.

The NHL has direct feeds to hockey operations from both net and overhead cameras which they use for goalie interference and puck over the goal-line challenges. They don’t have to wait or rely on the networks. So it’s quicker and more definitive.

There’s been talk of installing blue line cameras with a direct feed to hockey ops but it hasn’t happened yet so there’s a disparity in technology for offside reviews which can become apparent in the application.

Offside challenges were expected to be rare but that hasn’t been the case.

There have been 121 Coach’s Challenges this season and in 88 instances the call on the ice has stood while 33 have been overturned. Seventy-seven challenges have been for goalie interference (61 upheld and 16 overturned) while 44 have been on offside calls (27 upheld and 17 overturned).

It’s clear offside review was needed and some bad goals have been taken off the board as a result. That’s a good thing.

It’s a rule which should stay. We’re not talking about a bunch of goals which are offside. Another good thing.

But it’s a game and it’s a show. To pretend it’s a sterile environment where error isn’t part of the equation is specious.

There are going to be tight offside calls which are wrong, to one way or the other, by a fraction of an inch. That’s OK. Tie goes to the runner as they say in baseball. It’s not always going to be black and white.

The NHL has taken the obvious offside goals out of the game. Well done. So now it’s time for tweaking.

Give the linesmen a better opportunity to succeed and stricter time parameters. If there’s not an angle which produces conclusive evidence within four minutes, say so and drop the puck. Add a few cameras with direct feeds to the penalty box and hockey ops.

Offside review is mostly working with half measures. But it can be better.