What Is Offside In Hockey?

One of the most important rules of the game of ice hockey is the offside rule. 

If you are a beginner or have been playing hockey for years, understanding the rule of offside is crucial.

What Is Offside In Hockey?

What Is Offside In Hockey?

An offside call will be made by a linesman who will blow their whistle to stop play. Offside is a violation where a player from the offensive team crosses the blue line before the puck does. An offside call is made in relation to the position of the player’s skates and the blue line.

A few key points about the offside rule:

  • Both of the players’ skates must fully cross the line ahead of the puck for an offside to be called.
  • If any part of the player’s skate is touching the blue line, they are not considered to be offside.
  • The location of the players’ stick is not considered for an offside call. 
  • The puck must fully cross the blue line ahead of the players’ skates and not be touching the line to avoid an offside call.
  • Dragging a skate or straddling the blue line is allowed to prevent going offside. 

You can refer to the NHL rulebook section 83.1 for more offside information. 

hockey player offside
hockey player onside

What is the blue line?

There are 2 blue lines on the ice that divide the playing surface into 3 zones. The purpose of the blue line is to provide a visual reference that helps to prevent players from going offside. 

The blue line is also a marker for the offensive and defensive zones. Once the offensive team crosses the blue line with the puck they are considered to be in the opposing team’s zone. Called the offensive zone. The team on defense are playing in the defensive zone. 

The blue line also prevents the offensive team from having an advantage over the defensive team. The blue line ensures a player can not go behind the defense and have the upper hand on retrieving the puck. 

The puck must cross the line ahead of the player, therefore, eliminating this concern. A player can not enter into the other team’s zone ahead of the puck. 

ice hockey blue line

3 zones of the hockey rink

As mentioned, the blue lines divide the ice surface into 3 zones. They are the offensive zone, defensive zone, and neutral zone. 

The team controlling the play in the opposing team’s zone would be in the offensive zone. 

The team defending the play from the opposing team would be in the defensive zone.

The neutral zone is neither in the offensive or defensive zones and is considered to be the space in between the blue lines.  

hockey ice surface with 3 zones

Offside history

The offside rule in hockey did not always exist. In fact, it took until the 1928-29 NHL season for the ice to be divided into 3 zones with the addition of blue lines. 

Before this season, players were able to position themselves anywhere on the ice as offside didn’t exist. Players could stand behind the defense and wait for a pass from another player or simply wait there for the team to bring the puck forward.

To prevent this, the NHL started the offside rule on Dec 16, 1929. 

What is delayed offside?

A delayed offside occurs when the offensive team is offside on the play but doesn’t have possession of the puck. 

Normally this happens when a player is already across the blue line ahead of the puck which then gets controlled by the defensive team. 

The linesman will then put up his arm signaling an offside has occurred but not actually called in order to keep the play moving. 

This will allow the team on offense to back out of the zone across the blue line and at that point, the delayed offside will be removed and normal play will continue. 

If a delayed offside is being called and the team on offense touches the puck, the linesman will blow the whistle and the play will be offside.

What happens if a player goes offside?

When the linesman blows the whistle due to an offside, play will be stopped and a faceoff will take place at one of the 2 faceoff dots in the neutral zone. 

There are 4 faceoff dots in the neutral zone and the faceoff will take place at one of the dots closest to the blue line where the offside took place.

There are no penalties for going offside. 

Image credit: Katatonia82 depositphotos.com

New NHL offside rule

Starting in the 2021 NHL season, a new rule was put into place regarding the rule of offsides.

Before this new rule, at least one of the player’s skates had to be touching the blue line to prevent an offside being called. 

But what happens when the player’s skate is raised in the air above the blue line? 

With the introduction of coaches’ challenges and replays on scoring plays increasing, so many goals were being called back due to a player’s skate being above the blue line and not touching it. 

With the new rule in place, as long as the player “breaks the plane” means the player is considered onside if one of their skates is within the width of the blue line without actually touching it. 

NHL rule 83.1 is updated and shows the new rule in place.  

ice hockey blue line with puck

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