By: Denny Kearney
As an eight year pro player there is something that I have to vent about that bothers me in the game:
Players going offside.
A lot more has been made of offside plays in the past few years, namely due to the NHL’s new review rule. A goal can be overturned due to the replay showing that a player’s skate was just barely off the ice. I personally think that the offside review should be eliminated as rarely does that tiny difference of a puck or skate placement really affect the actual outcome of the play…but that is not the point I’m trying to make.
The first person I have heard openly say that going offside is a mistake is Adam Oates, a legend who is now a personal skills coach to many NHL stars. He also used to coach in the NHL and is most famous for being one of the best passers and offensive minds the game has ever seen.
So when I heard him condemning players for creating offside plays my first thought was, “Wow, he’s right.” Plays being blown down for offside has bothered me since for decades.
This offside problem breaks down into three different issues.
First, the player without the puck can be over-zealous entering the zone before the puck carrier. If the puck carrier did not have to change course upon their entry, then this is a pretty clear mistake by the player who crossed into the zone too early.
Second, the puck carrier can make a move at the blue line forcing a teammate offsides. I have never really been a fast skater at any level so I learned quickly on any rush that I better use my reach to get the puck into the zone as soon as I can or I risk my teammates going offside and the play being stopped. In this clip you see the player with the puck make sure to gain the zone as early as possible before making a play.
https://www.nhl.com/gamecenter/wpg-vs-buf/2019/02/10/2018020854#game=2018020854,game_state=final (2:35-2:55 of highlights.)
In playing all over the globe this is something that I have realized is not universally taught. I have seen many young professional players still struggle with this. Even some older players have a bad habit of taking an extra stick handle right at the blue line instead of bringing the puck into the zone first before pulling it to their forehand to try to make a play.
Obviously sometimes if a defender has good gap then doing this is more difficult but it still needs to be on the mind of every offensive player when entering the zone. There are times when an offensive player has to make a quick move at the blue line to avoid a defender stepping up, but these are preventable with good coaching and awareness.
The last kind of offside which is less common, but most frustrating, is when a player is changing and ends up causing a play they are not involved in to be offside. This occurs when a player (often with the long change in the second period) takes their time getting to the bench and doesn’t realize that the puck is headed back towards them. There really is no excuse for this as skating to the bench hard should be emphasized at all levels. I have seen this bad habit of lolly-gagging to the bench many times where a player that is changing doesn’t realize that the puck is about to enter the zone. A few weeks ago, even in the NHL, a Brayden Point breakaway goal was overturned due to one skate of a player still being on the ice as he stepped through the bench door.
The player that caused the offside had nothing to do with the play (and I believe was even the man Point changed for) but his lack of awareness and urgency to get off the ice cost the Lightning a goal. I understand that line changes in the second period are tough but I have seen too many coaches over the years overlook this kind of thing when I think it should be majorly emphasized. The best coach I ever had, Keith Allain, always used to say, “if you’re too tired to skate hard to the bench and get off then your shift was way too long.” I think those are good words to live by and teach.
I know all of these plays are separate issues but they all fall under the umbrella so I figured I would group them into one. At the end of the day, I feel coaches should do a better job emphasizing being onside on any rush. The puck carrier needs to get the puck in the zone as directly and quickly as possible while the players without the puck need to be hyper aware in order to stay onside!