What are offsides in hockey? (with pictures)

When you start to watch or play hockey one of the most important rules to know is the offside rule. The game does not make sense unless you understand it and it is one of the most common infractions in the game. 

What is an offside? An offside is a stoppage of play that occurs when an attacking player has crossed the blue line before the puck into the offensive zone. The key determination is the position of a players skates as they will be considered offside if the skates are all the way over the blue line before the puck enters the zone. 

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The blue lines help determine the offside


The hockey rink is divided into three zones: a defensive zone, neutral zone and offensive zone. 

A player is not allowed to enter into the offensive zone before the puck has crossed the blue line. Now the key determination of whether a player has entered into the offensive zone is if the players skates have crossed the blue line before the puck.

It is okay if the players stick or head or body have gone over the blue line as long as the puck beats the players skates over the blue line.

What to watch for? When the game is played out you will see one player carrying the puck over the blue line and one of his teammates trying to time himself to go over the blue line at the right time and not go offside. What this looks like is that the player without the puck will have one of his skates on the blue line while the player with the puck will be crossing the puck over the blue line with his stick while his skates are further back. So essentially, the player without the puck will enter the zone (or his skates) before the player with the puck. 

Another trick to watch for: straddling the line. A player will skate along the blue line with one leg in the attacking zone and one leg in the neutral zone. He is not considered in the zone until both skates cross the blue line. However, if the player lifted his rear leg (the one in the neutral zone) then it would be offside – you always need to have contact with the neutral zone of the ice or it will be called offside.


What happens when a player goes offside?

The linesmen is the official who is charged with the task of determining if a play is offside or not. When a play is considered offside they will blow their whistle and an offside will take place at one of the two faceoff dots closest to that blue line in the neutral zone. 

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Why do they have offsides? The history of blue lines and offsides in hockey 


When the NHL was formed in 1917-18 there were no lines on the ice (except for the goal lines). The blue lines were not put into the NHL until the 1918-19 season, although the Pacific Coast Hockey League was using them.

The first seasons of the NHL also involved no passing forwards – only backwards! Yes, the first season of NHL hockey looks very different then it does today. 

Scoring in the early NHL was difficult and the trend become lower and lower scoring games. To counteract this the NHL slowly adopted forward passing and in 1928-29 forward passing was allowed in all three zones of hockey. However, the unintended consequence of forward passing was offensive players hanging out deep in the offensive zone waiting for a long pass while the puck was at the other side of the rink.

The NHL did not like this development or the style of play that resulted from it. So to give the defensemen assistance in stopping the attack and to make sure that the forwards would have to come back and not ‘cherry pick’ in the offensive zone they introduced the offside rule. 


What is a delayed offside?

The NHL is always concerned and leans towards trying to keep the game flowing with as few whistles as possible, and this applies to offsides as well.

So, if the puck enters into the zone in a manner where a player is offside but the puck has been recovered by the defensive team and they are in a position to bring the puck out of the zone the linesmen will raise his arm to signal a delayed offside. 

It is a delayed offside because the whistle will not be blown and the player(s) that are offside will now be given a chance to exit the offensive zone before they can re-enter to try and gain possession of the puck. All of the players must be exited from the zone before they can re-enter.

As well, if the defending team clears the puck into the neutral zone the offside will then be neutralized and play will continue as normal. 


When has the puck determined to have got into the zone?

The puck has crossed into the defensive zone when the entire puck has crossed the entire blue line. This means that you should be able to see some of the white ice between the edge of the puck and the leading edge of the blue line.  When that has happened other players on the offensive team are now permitted to enter into the zone.


What happens if the puck is cleared out of the defensive zone?


Inversely, the puck is said to have left the zone when the entire puck has crossed the back of the blue line and into the neutral zone. When this has happened, all of the players from the offensive team must exit the offensive zone and have the puck cross the blue line again before they are permitted to enter the zone. 

This is why you will see teams simply try and get the puck out of their zone and past the blue line. They know if they can get it over the blue line all of the offensive players will have to leave the zone, and the offensive pressure will be momentarily taken away.

When a defensive player has a chance but fails to clear the puck over the blue line it usually causes big problems for his team. So many goals result from players turning the puck over at their blue line and not getting the puck out, which results in a quick counterattack against.


What is the offside challenge?


When a goal is scored the coach from the opposing team may use a coach’s challenge to ask for a video review to see whether the play that resulted in the goal came from an offside that was missed by the officials. If the video review determines that an offside had proceeded the play in the time before the goal, then the goal will be disallowed. If the video review determines that the goal is good then the team that challenges the call will be assessed a minor penalty.

The following plays are not considered offside:

  • Defending player shoots the puck out of the zone and the puck hits a defending player and comes back into the defensive zone – all of the offensive players will be deemed onside
  • If an opposing player carries or shots the puck back into his defensive zone while an attacking player is in the zone it will not be considered offside. 


Related Questions


What if a puck bounces off an official into the defensive zone while an offensive players is in the defensive zone?

If a puck bounces off the official and back into the defensive zone it will be considered offside if any player from the offensive team is in the defensive zone. A faceoff will then take place. 

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