Did you know that offside in hockey used to be defined as any forward pass? Yes, you read that correctly. Before 1927, a forward pass in hockey was considered offside. The rule is obviously different now, and certainly less restrictive, but does the game benefit from the restrictions caused by the current offside rule?
Imagine you were explaining hockey to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the sport and you were explaining offside to them. And then, right in the middle of your explanation, this wise, wise person asks “what is the benefit of having an offside rule?”
What would your answer be? I’ve posed the question a lot recently and I’ve yet to come across an explanation that satisfies me. Please note that I’m not saying hockey should get rid of offside. I’m simply looking for how the game benefits from the existence of the rule.
I’m not asking what having an offside rule does. Yes, it prevent cherry picking and the like. But I want to know what the benefit of preventing cherry picking is. Don’t explain what the rule does, explain what the benefit of the rule is.
Here are a few answers I’ve gotten and why I don’t find them to be convincing.
Who cares? What’s so bad about cherry picking? Is cherry picking something that should be avoided at all costs? Cool, then let’s just play a half-ice game so teams share an offensive zone and no one can cherry pick. Ridiculous, right? Offside to prevent cherry picking is a less ridiculous fish in the same pond.
You want to have a guy stand by the other team’s goalie and have a 4-on-5 in your defensive zone? Go for it! After all, this happens all the time in basketball, right? One player just sits under his offensive basket while his team is on defense and waits for a Hail Mary pass, right? Wrong! Because team defense would suffer far too much to regularly employ this strategy. If this would be such a great strategy, then why don’t teams do the equivalent of this now and stand at their offensive blue line? Because it’d be a terrible defensive strategy.
Nay! It’d do the complete opposite. Imagine all the different looks and game situations that teams would now have to account for. Not having offside would lead to more strategy.
You know what I think effects the flow and aesthetics of the game? Whistle after whistle because a dude crossed a blue line a millisecond before a black disc did. I know not everyone is a basketball fan, and neither am I, really. But does basketball lack flow and aesthetics? I don’t think so. The game certainly has a flow to it. Hockey without offside would not somehow make hockey lack flow.
If the game of hockey was invented today, should offside be included? Are we just hanging on to tradition or does the game, which is meant to be an entertainment product, benefit from the rule?
Side note: I was thinking about this rule while playing hockey the other night. It would be terrible and horrifying from a player’s perspective, but man, would it be fun to watch.
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