The NHL Needs to Eliminate the Offside Challenge

It is time for this failed experiment to end.

Monday, May 29th, 2017: two hours before the puck dropped to open Game One of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Commissioner Gary Bettman said the following:

Approximately two and one half hours later, the offside challenge was the subject of controversy in every corner of the NHL save for the Pittsburgh Penguins bench in PPG Paints Arena.

P.K. Subban, noted fun person and outgoing personality on the Nashville Predators blue line, scored what appeared to be the opening goal of the game on an unbelievable shot from the high slot. Or, that’s what every single human watching the game thought, that is, until Mike Sullivan challenged the goal for offside.

16 seconds prior to Subban’s goal, Filip Forsberg took control of the puck at the blue line and entered the zone. Or, he appeared to. Sullivan challenged that Forsberg’s skate had come off the ice prior to the puck completely entering the zone, which would make him offside. Because the play was ruled a goal on the ice, there would have to be conclusive and indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the ice.

There was. Or, at least, there was according to the NHL, because I sure as hell haven’t seen a look at Forsberg’s skate that definitively can be called off of the ice surface. I’m not entirely sure one even exists. The linesman, positioned right near Forsberg, did not see his skate off of the ice either. The reversal completely swung the momentum of the first period and the shell-shocked Predators gave up three goals before the end of the first period. They responded, scoring three of their own to tie the game before the Penguins finished the game off to win 5-3.

Leaving aside that the goal off of the board would have left the game tied with 5 minutes to go rather than forcing the Predators to pull their goaltender in an attempt to tie the game, the call to overturn Subban’s was egregiously bad and swung, at minimum, Game One and possibly the entire series.

The NHL needs to eliminate the offside challenge.

The “offside” play in question (and I’m using quotation marks because until someone goes Ohio State football level of Zapruder on this thing and mathematically proves that his skate was 6 millimeters off of the ice, as far as I’m concerned it didn’t happen) happened a full 16 seconds before Subban’s goal. Several things happened in that 16 seconds:

  1. Forsberg took control of the puck and entered the zone before being pressured by two Penguins
  2. The puck was turned over, with the Penguins taking full possession and control of the puck
  3. Pontus Aberg poked the puck away, allowing Forsberg to retake possession of the puck and find
  4. P.K. Subban, who unleashed a great shot to beat Matt Murray

So, that’s 16 seconds and two complete and controlled changes of possession. The initial “offside” had absolutely zero bearing on the actual goal being scored. The Penguins regained possession and turned it over in the slot, which allowed the goal to be scored because, generally, turning over the puck in the slot is a bad thing. As someone who’s watched 17 seasons of Columbus Blue Jackets hockey, I’m pretty familiar with the results of turnovers in the slot. Pittsburgh just got burned.

The Penguins were bailed out by a play that may or may not have even happened 2 full possessions before the goal was scored. The video evidence was certainly not conclusive to overturn the goal, and Forsberg certainly agrees:

“When you look at the video, it could easily go either way,” Forsberg said. “Kind of inconclusive in my opinion.”

It would be one thing if Forsberg was a full foot and a half into the offensive zone, but this is a 50-50 call that just decided a game of the championship series, the most visible moment of the NHL’s season. To call something so dubious as conclusive enough to take a goal off of the board (and offer the world’s weakest explanation of the call, citing zero evidence that led them to overturn the call) is a black mark on this series and is the exactly wrong talking point the league wanted to have during its most visible moments.

Officials want to get calls right, but human error happens. Video review was meant to fix these moments of egregious error or a simple missed call. When it comes to breaking down a video to the pixel level to potentially decide a Final game, things have gone too far.

The NHL needs to eliminate the offside challenge. Enough is enough.

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