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NHL offside rule to be discussed at GM meetings in March

Executives plan to talk about possible changes, say they are pleased with state of game

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- NHL general managers left their meeting Tuesday saying they felt good about the game, but also with a desire to further discuss the offside rule, how it is interpreted on video review and whether it needs to be modified to result in fewer overturned goals.

NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said the GMs will talk at their meetings in March about possibly modifying the interpretation of offside, including allowing a player to be considered onside if his trailing skate is off the ice above the blue line as he enters the zone.  

The GMs talked about that possibility at their meetings in March 2017 and declined to make changes.

"There's a lot of nice goals scored on a foot in the air that you take back," Campbell said. "We had three [general] managers who spoke to it and felt that maybe it's time to readdress it."

Campbell said the GMs talked about possession and control of the puck, looking specifically at the coach's challenge review for offside that took away a goal from the Boston Bruins in their 5-4 loss at the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 5.

Video: Mete nets a pair as Canadiens win back-and-forth game

Bruins center Charlie Coyle kicked the puck into the zone with his skates but was ruled offside upon video review. Should he have been considered in possession of the puck and therefore onside because he was playing it in his skates? 

"I think we're always trying to be progressive and reward offense," Campbell said. "I think our players are much more talented than the players of the past. I can say that because I was one. But these players, the talent they have now, I think we have to take that into consideration with what they can do with the puck on those possession and control plays on the blue line."

The general consensus among the GMs is that the game is healthy, particularly because of the amount of goals and comeback victories.

"The game is in a good place," Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "Lots of offense going on. Lots of goals being scored and leads being blown. It's just good to have a discussion about it all."

Many of the statistics released by the League's public relations department Tuesday amplify the feeling the GMs have about the game and the many minor rule changes they've made in recent seasons. In the first quarter of the season, 1,956 goals were scored through 317 games, the second-highest total in the same number of games in the past 23 years (2,007 in 2005-06). There were 140 comeback wins, including 66 third-period comeback wins, the most ever at this stage of a season.

The average length of a regulation game was 148 minutes, the lowest since 2012-13. The NHL and GMs said they feel that number is a direct result of changes made for this season aimed at reducing the number of coach's challenges and stoppages in play.

Adding a minor penalty for all failed coach's challenges has led to a 32 percent decrease in the number of challenges this season (40) from last season (59). The success rate of those challenges is at 58 percent, up from 32 percent last season.

There are also three fewer stoppages leading to a face-off per game, NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said, a likely result of goalies freezing fewer pucks on shots from the opposite side of the red line. 

The League made a rule change this season prohibiting a team from changing lines if its goalie freezes the puck on a shot from the other side of the red line.

"The GMs made a number of small changes to increase game flow … and it seems to have worked," Walkom said. "The feedback from the GMs has been excellent in that regard."

Chayka said the GMs also feel officiating in the League is strong. 

"What I saw was a lot of good calls being made," he said.

That didn't stop the GMs from discussing the rule pertaining to injured players and stoppages (Rule 8.1) and whether there needs to be more clarification given to the officials for stopping play when an injury prevents a player from continuing while the opposing team has the puck.

Officials didn't stop play after Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert was hit in the head by a shot from Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson on Saturday. Calvert was down on the ice, but the officials let the play continue because the Canucks had the puck. They scored on the play.

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The rule states that "play shall not be stopped until the injured player's team has secured control of the puck," though officials can decline to stop play if that team is in a scoring situation.

Walkom called that "an unfortunate situation in that game" and stressed that the officials have the ability by rule to blow a play dead if it is obvious there is a serious injury, particularly to the head or face. He said a rule change is not needed.

"If they believe it's a serious injury, we want them to stop the play," Walkom said. "They just need to be sure of it."

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