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Fraser: Duchene's offside goal and interpreting Rule 83.1

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Kerry Fraser
2/19/2013 3:42:37 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Hi Kerry,

Regarding the goal scored by Matt Duchene in Monday's game between Nashville and Colorado, it seems that the referees didn't call the play offside because the puck was deflected by Scott Hannan's stick and Craig Smith's left skate (both Predators players) into the Predators defensive zone, making it a back pass and thus no offside position should be considered.
 
Barry Trotz said after the game, "The league already verified that it should have been an offside."

Could you clarify what is to be considered a back pass into the defensive zone? Is a deflection by a defending player to be considered as such or not?
 
Who do you think got it right: the officials on the ice or "the league?"
 
Also, we see Barry Trotz strongly arguing with the referees after the play. Shouldn't only the captains be allowed to ask the referees about their interpetation of the play and call?
 
Thank you for sharing your insight on all those rules issues that occur in our game.

Gauthier Dupont

Gauthier,

The League did the right thing shortly after the game and issued a statement that the linesman erred in his interpretation of Rule 83.1 and the play should have been blown dead for the off-side at the Nashville blue line.

The misinterpretation resulted from the very question of what constitutes a "back pass" as described in the last paragraph of Rule 83.1 - If a player legally carries or passes the puck back into his own defending zone while a player of the opposing team is in such defending zone, the off-side shall be ignored and play permitted to continue.

The key word in the rule is "legally" as it applies to a defending player transporting the puck back into his own zone. The intent and spirit of the rule allows for situations where a player has possession and control of the puck and either cycles back into his defending zone or clearly passes the puck back toward a teammate within that zone. This player decision could be made to avoid a check in the neutral zone, to buy some time and maintain puck possession while other teammates are changing at the players' bench or to regroup for an offensive attack through the neutral zone that might be clogged with traffic. 

For it to be determined that the puck was returned to the defending zone through a legal back pass, the player executing this pass must have full possession and control of the puck. In addition, any action by an attacking player that causes a deflection/rebound off a defending player in the neutral zone back into the defending zone (i.e. stick check, body check, physical contact), a delayed off-side shall be signalled by the linesman.
 
A long stretch pass was intended for Colorado forward Matt Duchene as he snuck behind the Nashville defencemen. Scott Hannan's desperation attempt to bat the puck down caused a redirection of the puck which then further deflected off the skate of Craig Smith. In both cases, this form of contact with the puck did not constitute possession or control by either of the two Nashville players. It would be no different had the puck been deflected off the shin guard or body of Hannan, followed by the skate of Smith which delayed the puck from crossing their blue line ahead of  Matt Duchene. Off-side is the call!

Barry Trotz was understandably upset with the linesman's ruling on this play. In an emotionally charged play such as this, the referee or linesman can go directly to the coach and offer his interpretation. I found that delivering the message directly to the coach at times such as this was far more effective than through the captain or alternate.

Many of you will probably ask why one of the other officials on the ice didn't blow the whistle if they observed the obvious off-side play or if the goal could subsequently be disallowed following a group conference held with the linesman? Both are reasonable actions and alternatives to getting this play right. Let me provide you with my thoughts, references from the rules and final authority on the subject.

First, let me say that the linesmen in the NHL are the best in the world at their trade. They make excellent judgments on extremely close plays that are executed at lightning speed. Replays almost always prove them correct. On very rare occasions, mistakes are made.

Rule 31.4 says the "The referees shall not halt the game for any infractions of the rules concerning Rule 83 - Off-side, or any violation of Rule 81 - Icing. Determining infractions of these rules is the duty of the linesmen unless, by virtue of some accident, the linesman is prevented from doing so, in which case, the duties of the linesman shall be assumed by a referee until play is stopped." ("Accident" means being blocked out, bumped, fallen down or anything would cause the linesman to miss an off-side play.)

At a training camp meeting a few years ago, the referees posed the question to allow for a referee to blow the whistle where an obvious off-side had been missed by a linesman. The flat out answer was only if the linesman is unable to make the call through one of the above reasons listed. Furthermore, the referees were told to lay off if the linesman made a wave-off signal which signified he saw the play and made a judgment on the play. If it was a wrong judgment, the linesmen were prepared to live with it no differently than a minor penalty missed by the referee!

In certain situations, we often see the officials huddle at the referee's crease to determine legitimate goals following potential goalkeeper interference, high-stick infractions where injury has resulted, high hits/illegal hits to the head and pucks shot out of play by the defending team from their defending zone. Conferences by the officials are designed to get the call right and the initial decision made by an official have been overturned through a meeting of the minds.

By what authority, you might ask, would the goal be disallowed since Rule 83.4 states that, "Other than in situations involving a delayed off-side and the puck being shot on goal, no goal can be disallowed after the fact for an off-side violation, except for the human factor involved in blowing the whistle." I would suggest that a conference by the officials would have been well served and justified in this case since it was a rule interpretation error and not a visual judgment error made by the linesman on the blue line which the spirit of the above rule implies.

When a linesman has made an error on icing for any reason, the face-off is taken to centre ice without question. If through a conference of the officiating crew, it was determined that the puck was deflected by the Nashville players and not through any "back pass" of the puck, I believe the call could be reversed and the goal disallowed.

Finally, I provide Rule 31.2 and 31.4 as the final authority with regard to disputes in a broad sense.

31.2—Disputes: The referees shall have general supervision of the game and shall have full control of all game officials and players during the game, including stoppages; and in case of any dispute, their decision shall be final.

31.4—General Duties: It shall be the duty of the referees to impose such penalties as are prescribed by the rules for infractions thereof and they shall give the final decision in matter of disputed goals. The referees may consult with the linesmen, goal judge or video goal judge before making their decision.

I am hopeful that a consultation by the officiating crew would have determined an error in rule interpretation on the play and an announcement made that, "It was determined by the officials that an off-side had occurred at the blue line and the goal has been disallowed."

I doubt if there will be confusion in the future on what constitutes legally carrying or back passing the puck by a defending player into his end zone. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to add this and similar situations to the growing list of allowable officials conferences at the penalty box to determine the legal scoring of a goal.

Barry Trotz and the Nashville Preds would be in full agreement.

Barry Trotz (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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