What Is Offside in Hockey?
Offside is an infraction in hockey that is called on any player who is in the offensive zone before the puck crosses the blue line. The puck has to be completely over the blue line of the offensive zone prior to teammates entering the zone. If a player is called offside, a face-off will take place on the face-off dot outside the offensive zone (except on intentional offsides).
To avoid being called offside, a player should ensure that the puck has already entered the offensive zone before the player enters. In order to execute a successful entrance into the offensive zone, a player must practice their timing and coordination with teammates to ensure that no one goes offside.
The Blue Lines
There are two blues on a hockey rink that divide the ice into three zones: the defensive zone, neutral zone, and offensive zone. The blue line is important when calling offside. There are referees, known as linemen, standing at the blue lines whose job is to determine if players are offside.
The Offensive Zone
The offensive zone is the part of the rink where the team with the puck is trying to score. The offensive zone is relative to the goal a team is trying to score on, so it depends on who has the puck. For example, the offensive zone is switched for the other team since they are attempting to score on the other side of the ice. If your team has the puck outside of the offensive zone, then all teammates must be outside the offensive zone as well.
Types of Offside Infractions
The three main types of offside infractions include basic offside, delayed offside, and intentional offside.
In its simplest form, offside is called on any player who enters the offensive zone prior to their teammate with the puck entering the zone. With a basic offside call, the linesman will blow their whistle immediately to stop play.
Now, just because a teammate is in the offensive zone doesn’t mean they don't have a chance to leave the zone. This is called delayed offside. In a delayed offside call, the referee will raise their hand in the air, signaling that an offside call is imminent. This gives any teammates who are offside a chance to cross the blue line into the neutral zone.
Once the players on the team who were deemed to be offside all exit the offensive zone and regrouped, the referee will lower their arm, and play will continue. However, if the team deemed to be offside touches the puck in the offensive zone before fully exiting to the neutral zone, the play will be whistled dead by the linesman.
Sometimes in a hockey game, a player intentionally goes offsides. For example, a player may go intentionally offside to slow the opponent’s momentum. If a player is deemed to have gone intentionally offside, the play will be whistled dead by a referee or linesman, and a face-off will take place on the dot in the neutral zone closest to the defensive zone of the team that went offside.
When one of the two linesmen determines that a player has gone offside, they will lift their non-whistle arm straight up into the air. If it is a basic offside call, the linesman will immediately blow their whistle. If it is a delayed offside, the linesman will hold their arm up in the same fashion as a basic offside. They will then blow the whistle if the team who went offside touches the puck in the offensive zone before going back onside.
Offside Rule Examples
Example #1: Two players are going down the ice towards the offensive zone. The player who doesn’t have the puck crosses the offensive blue line, followed by the player with the puck. Since a player entered the offensive zone before the puck, the play is immediately whistled dead for an offside infraction.
Example #2: Two players are going down the ice towards the offensive zone. The player with the puck dumps the puck into the offensive zone after their teammate has already entered the zone. The linesman will raise their arm to signal a delayed offside. The player without the puck doesn’t realize they are offside and touches the puck in the offensive zone. The linesman then blows his whistle to stop the play, signaling offside.
Example #3: A player who realizes they are offside decides to touch the puck in the offensive zone in order to let his team have time for a line change. The play is whistled dead for an intentional offside infraction, and the face-off will take place closer to the offending player’s defensive zone.
Vertical Plane of Blue Line
In 2021, the NHL updated the offside rule to include the vertical “plane” of the blue line as onside. This means that a player is still onside even though their skate isn’t touching the ice. The player can be in the air, but as long as they have a body part behind the vertical plane of the blue line, they are onside.
Deflection Exception To Offside Rule
If a player on the defending team either sends the puck back or deflects it back into their defensive zone while an offensive player is offside, an offside infraction will not be called. The offensive player is allowed to touch the puck and make a play towards the goal.
The Player’s Skates
A player is not offside if they have at least one foot behind the blue line when the puck enters the offensive zone. A player has to have both skates in the offensive zone for offside to be called.
A face-off is used to put the puck back into play when offside is called. The face-off will take place in the neutral zone after an offsides infraction. There are four locations where a face-off can take place after an offsides call, two on each end of the neutral zone just outside the blue lines.
On a basic or delayed offside call, the face-off will happen on one of the face-off spots closest to the offensive zone. On an intentional offside call, the face-off will happen on one of the face-off spots closest to the defensive zone.
What is offside in hockey?
In hockey, the offside rule prohibits players from entering the offensive zone before the puck has crossed over the offensive blue line. If a player without the puck crosses the blue line before the puck, the play will be whistled dead for an offside infraction.
Why does offside exist in hockey?
Offside is a rule that is in place to discourage what is known as cherry-picking, or staying in the offensive zone to wait for the puck. An offside infraction will deter players from lingering in the offensive zone by requiring the puck to cross the blue line before any offensive players can.
What happens if the puck leaves the offensive zone?
If the puck leaves the offensive zone, all teammates must also leave the offensive zone. Once all the team’s players who were offside leave the zone, they are permitted to regroup and reenter the zone without being offside.