Delayed Off-Sides: Keeping The Game Moving


Possibly one of the most welcome rule changes of all time was the one which allowed a delayed off-side to be nullified once everyone from the attacking team clears the zone. This one rule change has done more to improve the flow of the game than any other, especially at the younger ages when children are just learning about off-sides.

Let’s take a moment to review the off-side rule:

Rule 72 (e)

"If an attacking player(s) precedes the puck that is shot, passed or deflected into the attacking zone by a teammate, or deflected into the attacking zone by a defending player; but a defending player is able to play the puck, the Linesman shall signal a delayed off-side.

The Linesman shall drop his arm to nullify the off-side violation and allow play to continue if:

1) The defending team passes or carries the puck into the neutral zone, or

2) All attacking players in the attacking zone (at the time the puck crosses the blue line) clear the attacking zone by making skate contact with the blue line…….

Note: The attacking zone must be completely clear of attacking players before a delayed off-side can be nullified with the puck still in the attacking zone." (Canadian Hockey Referee’s Case Book/Rule Combination, 2001, pg. 199).

The delayed off-side rule allows the flow of the game to continue, thus minimizing the amount of whistles in a game and it allows the hockey game to take less time to play. It also gives an opportunity for the attacking team to clear the attacking zone (tag up with the blue line) and then pursue the puck once again. With the delayed off-side rule, the defending team has the opportunity to regain the puck and set-up a break out before they will be pressured by the attacking team.

Tag-Up Rule

If an offending player does not touch the puck and he goes back into the neutral zone (one skate touching the line) and all of his teammates are also in the neutral zone with at least one skate touching the blue line or in the neutral zone then the delayed off-side is waved off (the linesman’s arm will drop to his side) and the attacking players can now go after the puck that is in the attacking zone.

A common misconception with the tag-up rule is that all a player has to do is touch the blue line and then he can go back into the attacking zone after the puck. This is not true!

Each player must wait until all of his other teammates also have at least one skate on the blue line or in the neutral zone before being allowed to chase after the puck.

Delayed Off-Sides: Reminder #1
It Is The Skate - Not Just Any Other Part Of The Body!

Often you see players diving back over the line to prevent an offside. If they dive head-first towards the line, it’s not enough that their hand touches the line. They are still off-side until any part of the skate (including the boot or blade) is on the blue-line.

In the above picture, Chris (diving back on ice) is trying to clear his attacking zone before his teammate Darcy carries the puck completely across the blueline. This example would be called an OFF-SIDE because Chris’s skates (at least one of the skates) was not touching the blueline as Darcy carried the puck into the attacking zone.

Delayed Off-Sides: Reminder #2
The Skate Must Be "Touching" The Ice

When it is mentioned that the player needs one skate at least on the blue line, it is meant that the player must have any part of his skate, boot or blade on the ice in order for it to be legal. If a player has his skate in the air above the blue line then this is considered off-side (if his other skate is located inside the attacking zone) because the player needs to have his skate in physical contact with the ice to be legally on-side.

From time to time it may appear to fans in the stands that a player is on-side. In actual fact, the linesman may notice that the front skate is over the blue-line and the back skate is still on the ice on the other side of the blue-line. But when the player lifts his back skate off the ice, he is now off-side if the puck has not yet gone over the blue line. It only has to be off the ice by a fraction of an inch to put a person off-side and the linesman is in a perfect position to see this.

In this picture Chris (white player on right) has one skate inside the attacking zone and one skate above the blue line (in the air). While Chris is in this position his teammate Darcy carries the puck over the blue line. This would be called an OFF-SIDE due to the fact that at least one of Chris’ skates were not in physical contact with the blue line (or in the neutral zone) at the moment the puck completely crossed over the blue line into the attacking zone.

Delayed Off-Sides:
Where Is The Face-Off

If there is a close play at the blue line where one player carrying the puck over the blue line is preceded by a teammate into the attacking zone then the face-off will take place at the neutral zone face-off spot (red dot just outside the attacking blue line, located 5 feet from the blue line) on the side of the ice closest to where the puck has crossed over the blue line.

If an attacking player has both skates inside the attacking zone and receives a pass that originated from a point farther away into the neutral zone than the face-off circles are located, then the face-off will take place from where the pass originated. In minor hockey, such a face-off will take place on the side of the ice from which the pass originated and in line with both of the end-zone face-off dots on that side of the ice. In the OHL and the NHL, the face-off will take place from the exact place from which the puck was shot. It doesn’t have to be in line with the dots. So before you yell at the linesman, remember that what you see on television may be different from what you see in your son or daughter’s minor hockey game.

Using the diagram below we will show you an example. If ‘X’ passes the puck directly to ‘Y’ there would be an off-side signalled. In the OHL or NHL the face-off would be conducted where ‘X’ was located when he released the puck to pass it to ‘Y’. If this were a minor hockey game since ‘X’ is situated on the bottom half of the rink the face-off would be moved in line with the two end-zone face-off dots on the bottom half of the rink where the ‘X’ is located in the diagram.

Keeping The Game Moving

Linesmen have a tough job to do. Everyone in the arena is ready to jump all over them if it appears as if an off-side has been missed. The delayed off-side rule allows them to use their judgement in order to avoid an unnecessary stoppage of play and keep the game moving along at a good pace. Next time you feel the urge to be critical of a call or a non-call, remember that they are right on the spot and maybe it is you who missed something this time. Granted, officials aren’t perfect and may miss a call from time to time. Nobody is PERFECT!