Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello Mr. Fraser,
With all the changes being made to increase scoring and offensive play in the NHL, why do the linesmen continue to stand on the outside of the blue line? This appears to create too many unnecessary stoppages in play due to offsides during offensive zone entry, where the puck is sent into the linesmen's skates/legs and he has not enough time to react to allow the entry to proceed according to plan.
I just checked online and what I found says they should be inside the blue line, but they seem to always be just outside (or at least I notice more when that happens, rather that when the chip in hits them and their arm doesn't go up because they are inside the line). Is it because in some rinks the glass starts at the blue line and they have to prop themselves up onto the ledge of the players bench to avoid being hit by the puck? Maybe these incidents tend to occur mostly in those rinks and not the ones where the bench extends further into the zone past the blue line.
Thanks for reading!
There are a few potential obstacles in the current NHL that the linesmen have to be aware of and overcome as they set up to make the correct call at the attacking blue line.
- The removal of the center red line for the purpose of a two-line offside pass stretches the attacking zone all the way to the far blue line.
- The enhanced standard by the referees to eliminate restraining fouls has created considerable speed through the neutral zone as teams' transition more quickly on the attack.
- Players are much bigger on average than any other era of the game, creating additional congestion on the ice. (Have you noticed the towering size of many of the current crop of linesmen as well?)
- The "four-man officiating system" has added another body on the ice; one of which always leads the play by skating backwards into the attacking zone. Often his entry into the zone can be on the same side of the ice that the linesman making the off-side call at the blue line is positioned.
- They are required to support their fellow linesman close to the foreword blue line in the event that he is bumped off the line and then must reverse direction quickly as the play transitions in the other direction toward the blue line that is his primary responsibility. Fast breaks can make this quite challenging.
The bottom line Rich is that the linesman must do whatever is necessary to assume the very best position in order to see the puck cross the inside edge of their respective blue line ahead of any attacking player. This requires skating skill, speed, agility and athleticism which the NHL linesmen demonstrate on a consistent basis during every game!
The "best position" is often obtained by sliding into the zone just ahead of the play and to gain an "unobstructed view" of the inside edge of the blue line. This 'inside position' also allows the puck to cross the line cleanly without restriction by accidentally striking a linesman in the neutral zone as you suggest Rich. Once the puck enters the zone legally, the linesman is then required to immediately reposition himself outside the blue line in the neutral zone to prevent his body and skates from interfering with the puck's exit from the zone.
In theory this sounds like a pretty simple process doesn't it Rich. In practice however, given the bullet point obstacles I mentioned and others I didn't, it's not at all easy to accomplish. I am amazed at the close plays on the blue line that are almost always ruled correctly by the linesmen. These are the times we never even notice them. Often the only time we do notice the linesmen is on the rare occasion when the puck does hit them on dump or chip when they haven't yet assumed that best position inside the zone through some unavoidable circumstance.
When players gain the red line and pound the puck in their direction the linesmen are most vulnerable to being struck and even injured. They should avoid sitting up on the boards because from this position they are most vulnerable to being hit without any means of escape other than by being knocked into the players' bench! I can assure you the linesmen do their very best to stay out of the way of the puck and flow of play but at times it just isn't possible. Perhaps your question here Rich will inspire the linesmen to work a little harder at gaining the most desired location inside the line whenever possible.
The most creative linesman I ever worked with and certainly one of the very best of all-time is Hockey Hall of Fame linesman Ray Scapinello (inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008). Ray was no giant at 5'7" tall but was lightning fast on his skates and earned the respect of every player and coach in the League. When Scotty Morrison hired 6'11" linesman Mike Cvik he paired him with the diminutive Scapinello in his first assignment in Toronto. Aside from the opportunity to learn from one of the best in Scapinello, Scotty demonstrated his sense of humor by putting 'Mutt and Jeff' together in that game. When I was added to that tandem as the referee 'Scamp' and I told big 'Honda' not to stand near us for the National Anthem!
Ray Scapinello read the play just as quickly as he skated and demonstrated a unique flair in making his calls on the blue line. I'm sure he might have missed a call or two over his career because no one is perfect but I must confess I can't ever remember seeing him miss one in the many, many big games we worked together!
'Scamp' would not only get inside the zone ahead of the play but on the close ones he would be down on one knee with his eyes set like a laser on the inside edge of the blue line. He did whatever was necessary to make the call. One time as players approached him with speed down the wall, rather than bump into the attacking zone I witnessed Ray jump into the players' bench at the blue line to make the call;. The players seated on the bench had a stunned look on their face as 'Scampy' made a washout signal from their side of the boards and then jumped back onto the ice once the attacking players passed by.
Scampy always found a way to make the call from the best and most desired position. I am sure his advice to the current group of linesmen is to read and react to the play quickly and then move your feet to get in the best and most desired position to make the call.
Ray Scapinello is without a doubt one of the very best linesman in the history of the NHL.