When the NHL announced they were going to start reviewing goals for offside, I was glad at first. Lots of us were. We want the call to be right, after all–this just gave them a chance to make sure they got it right.
And as much as there is to pick on the NHL for exactly how the offside review has been implemented (no statute of limitations on how long the play can continue before the offside isn’t reviewable anymore? really?), coming back to Earth on reviews means accepting that we didn’t actually know what we wanted.
For starters, there’s been plenty of times when the NHL doesn’t appear to even know its own rulebook. Remember that?
Then there’s times when the call isn’t extremely clear, like the one that happened tonight. The puck left the zone before Buffalo returned with it, and they still had players exiting when the puck came back in. But it was fine because the player with the puck didn’t have control of it. I would argue, and have argued, that he did. But if you argue that he didn’t, I can’t really say you’re wrong. And there’s the problem.
I’m not sure the NHL really knew exactly what it was getting into when offside reviews were introduced. Zone entries can be clear cut, a player can just come in too quickly, or they can bend the blue line like Matt Duchene. Or, it may be impossible to see through all the skates whether the one skate in question was 100% across the blue line or not. Or on the ice, for whatever reason that matters. Maybe there’s a complex little play at the blue line where players clear the zone slightly late and it doesn’t actually affect the play. The NHL zone entry is fast, fluid, and doesn’t lend itself well to review because it is not black and white.
It could be. We could make it exactly like scoring a goal: did the puck cross the line? There’s absolutely a place for video review there, just ask the 2004 Calgary Flames. At the blue line, we could say, if you are in the zone before the puck is, you are offside. Then we Zapruder the zone entry of every goal to see who is technically correct (the best kind of correct). That is what we thought we wanted. But it isn’t.
The point of any rule in hockey is to stop you getting an unfair advantage or hurting somebody. Offside prevents you sitting in the offensive zone waiting for a breakaway. Tripping prevents you from playing defense against a player who has properly beat you already (and from risking an uncontrolled fall to the ice). So on. So what’s the point of, for example, disallowing tonight’s goal, even if you (like me) think the player had possession of the puck from the moment he touched it? Those guys late on the exit had no bearing on anything.
We want an offside call that responds to the game situation. We weren’t hoping for a stop at the Argument Clinic. We don’t want a goal called back because someone who had no bearing on the play was still 3 inches from the blueline when a teammate chipped the puck back in. We don’t want a goal called back because you technically broke a rule in a way that gave you no advantage.
What that means, then, is we must by nature not want an offside review. A frame by frame video review cannot properly take into account these nuances of context. It’s too busy reading all the fine print of the rule (maybe) and checking whether any frame is technically against that rule. And maybe more importantly–it’s destructive. What is pro sport for? Are we here because we want to spend time debating the minutiae of things that matter? No, we would not, or we would be talking about the goings on of our governments every day. Instead, we’re watching what everybody knows is, in the end, a kids’ game. We want to have fun. We are here to be entertained. An offside review is the antithesis of entertainment and fun.
Something exciting has happened! Or has it? Let’s wait. Let’s watch every detail, over and over, maybe for ten minutes why not. Let’s scour each pixel of the grainiest cameras in the rink for some reason. Then we’ll do it again. And again. And again. We will cite every subsection of any relevant rule in the book like it’s model UN, repeating or refuting arcane arguments from the television over and over and over. Do you like breathing the air from hour 10 on an airplane? Because that’s what these arguments will be like. We will pause, reverse, pause, play, pause, reverse, pause, play, and then watch players look on, bored. Us too. We will watch the officials, squinting into an iPad of all things for Gordorgh knows what reason to decide whether the puck was in this millimeter of ice or that. And then, just when we think we’ve got it figured out, the official will announce the ruling. Not an explanation. Just goal or no. Goal horn! Alright, high five. Or maybe a cascade of boos! Are you not entertained? Yeah, me either.
And that’s just the experience I get at home. In the arena, no expert is here to help you figure out the rules. You and a few thousand of your closest buddies are all you’ve got. Maybe you’re next to some hardcore hockey freak with the rulebook saved on their phone. Maybe you even are that person. Maybe you’re a heavy enough hockey fan you have a dedicated hockey community’s discord on your phone pulled up immediately to talk about what we’re seeing. But what about the vast majority who are not? All they know is, we sat around for ten minutes for a ruling that looked pretty obvious, and they made the opposite call, why? Who knows? It’s confusing, infuriating, and hurts the viewing experience dramatically every single time we have one. Even when it’s right. Even when it’s in your team’s favor.
Hell, especially then.
So let’s get rid of this stupid offside review process. Thanks for all the fish. The call may not be right, even after review, and when it is, it may be against the spirit of the thing in the name of following the rulebook to the letter. Offside review, get redacted.