The Western Conference Finals started out with a bang as the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche face off. We all expected a fast-paced, high-octane series and game one did not disappoint in that regard. We ended up with an 8-6 final, yet another extremely high-scoring game involving the Oilers.
The Play in Question
The key play in question here was late in the first period off a face-off at centre ice. The puck goes into the Oilers’ zone, and a couple of Avalanche players follow in. But, the puck is cleared and turned over in the neutral zone. Cale Makar takes the puck and leads the rush. He enters the zone with the puck and ultimately scores. But, it’s challenged as Valeri Nichushkin is still in the offensive zone.
An easy one to overturn, right?
The Ruling on the Offside Challenge
Wrong. This was called a good goal. To the astonishment of most people and the chagrin of Oilers fans all over the globe, this play was ruled onside and a good goal. Edmonton gets a bench minor for delay of game on a failed challenge.
The Delayed Offside Rule?
At first glance, this is one of the worst calls I have ever seen. I was speechless at how this play could be ruled onside. I mean, Makar puts the puck back into the offensive zone before Nichushkin is able to clear. Clear-cut offside, these refs are the worst thing in existence.
But there’s a number of, shall we say intricacies, to the offsides rule and how it is applied.
In a situation like this, where the puck goes into the zone before everyone else has cleared the zone, it becomes a tag-up situation. Essentially meaning that as long as the puck is not touched before players tag up at the blueline, the play will continue.
That is the key differentiating factor here. Touching the puck. Despite it being painfully obvious that Makar has possession of the puck and is onside the entire time himself. He does not touch the puck in the offensive zone until after Nichushkin clears.
In this particular situation, it appears possession and control do not matter. The only thing that mattered while making this call is when Makar touches the puck. Until he does touch the puck again, play shall continue.
In trying to figure out what rule was applied to the call, I see this as a key paragraph from the NHL Rulebook. Though I’m a bit unclear on its relevance with the delayed offside situation rather than tag-up offside. The normal basic rule we usually use (did the player enter the zone before the puck) need not apply. What we are looking for is whether or not the play should have been blown down as an offside violation because a player touched the puck in the offensive zone before everyone else tagged up.
It ultimately makes sense why it was called the way it was. Makar, being the intelligent player that he is, pushes the puck forward and waits. The puck is still in his control, but he doesn’t touch it until the delayed offside is cleared. Think of it like dumping the puck in, everyone clears the zone, then the attacking team reenters the offensive zone.
The biggest question remaining for me is dealing with the “attempts to gain possession of a loose puck” condition. Makar looking at the puck with his stick just inches away is trying to gain possession of the puck.
By the NHL’s definition of possession of the puck, Makar already had possession as he was the last player to touch the puck. Also by the NHL’s rulebook definition, he had control of the puck.
At the time of the incident in question, Makar was in the act of propelling the puck forward with his stick. So he has possession and control. To me, this makes it seem hard for him to be attempting to gain possession of a loose puck.
As hard as it is for this salty Oilers fan to admit (and after a 20-minute series of ranting tweets), the officials managed to make a call that adheres to the rulebook.
The Aftermath – Should the Rule Change?
The officials made a difficult, but ultimately correct, call. But do we need to look at how the offside rule is applied in situations like this to avoid certain strategic abuse in the future?
We see Makar intentionally put the puck into the offensive zone before his team has cleared out. He is smart not to touch it and not enter the offensive zone himself. There’s a reason he is one of the best in the league. Whether or not he meant for this play to happen exactly as it did, he clearly had the awareness to act in the specific sequence that made this play happen.
But for me, it brings up a question of acting in bad faith in regard to the spirit of the rule. Makar is intentionally creating an offside situation where it appears a play should be blown dead. Because he is just staring at the puck with his stick mere inches away instead of directly touching it, the play is allowed to happen while his teammate clears the zone.
Should a tag-up offside situation like this be blown down with possession and/or control of the puck, rather than only when direct contact is made with the puck?
It seems to me that if a player intentionally puts the puck offside in a situation where they have possession AND control, there should be a part of the rule that deems this an intentional offside. It is important for it to be both possession and control, as only possession would negate the ability for teams to dump the puck in. Requiring control makes it a bit more specific to a player who is essentially gaining a false start.
This was a high emotion event with a ton of controversy and confusion. But there seems to be some clarity now. What do you think about the call? And, what do you think of a rule alteration to prevent players from doing this in the future? Drop a comment down below!
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