Colin Campbell ‘nervous’ as unchanged offsides rule looms ahead of playoffs

David Amber, Nick Kypreos and Chris Johnston talk about what issues led the discussion on day two of the NHL GM meetings, including the offside challenges that might decide a key moment in the playoffs.

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Colin Campbell refers to it as Mike Murphy’s Law.

A nod to his right-hand man, yes, but also the NHL’s penchant for finding itself in some kind of rules quagmire at the most important time of year. Consider it a by-product of a game played with a bouncing piece of rubber on ice.

"We always go into the playoffs as nervous as hell," said Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations. "There’s always something."

The extreme example is Brett Hull’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1999 on a play where his skate entered the blue paint before he beat Dominik Hasek – a clear violation of a controversial rule at the time.

Despite that, the goal stood and the rule was removed that summer. Dallas won a six-game series over Buffalo.

There was also an infamous play in the deciding game of the 1980 Stanley Cup, where the Islanders scored a goal on missed offsides call and wound up beating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime later that night. The 2004 final saw a potential Cup-clinching goal by Calgary’s Martin Gelinas in Game 6 turned back because there wasn’t conclusive evidence the puck crossed the goal line.

Examples, these are but just a few.

"Bless his soul, (former Flyers owner Ed) Snider – he never forgot the offside against the Islanders," said Campbell. "Nor do Calgary forget the play where Gelinas, they felt the puck was across the line. They don’t forget and we don’t either. We want to try to be perfect on every call.

"To answer your question, we’re nervous no matter what. Something’s going to happen. Murphy’s Law, Mike Murphy’s Law."

The veteran hockey man didn’t raise these examples as some sort of history lesson in hockey foibles.

He was merely underlining why he had arrived at the GMs meetings this week hoping that the managers would decide to tinker with the wording of an offsides rule that has origins dating back to the 1929-30 season, but is facing a renewed interpretation since plays before goals can now be examined using video review.

That’s put an extra strain on the hockey operations department. It’s also resulted in some lengthy delays for challenges and hasn’t always delivered the kind of clarity everyone would like.

Alas, Campbell didn’t get his way here – the GMs decided to leave the rule as-is.

While that doesn’t amount to a screaming headline on a Tuesday afternoon in March, it could loom large over a do-or-die playoff game a few months from now. That’s what was running through Campbell’s mind here, especially as it pertains to rule 83.1, which states that a player must have at least one skate in contact with the blue line to be considered onside.

Out of 100 offside coach’s challenges to date this season, 29 have centred around whether a skate was on the ice. Had the wording of the rule been tweaked to say that the player merely needs to cross the line after the puck – whether his feet are down or not – nine of those plays would have resulted in goals.

Ultimately, the GMs felt it was too small of a number to warrant a change.

"I really don’t think it’s a big deal," said Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. "We have the rule. We’ve had it forever. In my mind, you don’t have to change anything. It is what it is: puck’s got to get over the blue line."

"We talked about it a lot," said Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka. "It always comes back to the fact that there are over 5,000 offside and there were nine goals that were disallowed that would have been allowed if we change the rule."

You can see the logic at play here.

Changing the language doesn’t solve the fundamental issue: Even with high-definition cameras positioned perfectly along the blue line, there can still be some judgment involved with these calls. They aren’t entirely black and white.

At this stage, you can’t eliminate video review altogether – how do you sell the fact you’re willingly not going to be as accurate as possible? – and so you live with what you have, imperfect as it may be.

"To me, I look at it like the cost of doing business," said Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli.

Unfortunately for Campbell, it’s his business.

And it’ll be his problem when the Stanley Cup final arrives in June and a coach challenges an offside play and there’s a judgment to be made. When video review was expanded prior to last season, he never anticipated dealing with so many issues.

Now Pandora’s Box has been opened.

"It hasn’t made it any easier," said Campbell. "It’s all to get the call right; that’s how this whole thing got started. Just get the call right. We’re trying to get the call right.

"Can we get it righter than right? That’s what we’re trying to do.&#34

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