There are a lot of rules in hockey — but if you are just starting out, hockey offsides is one of the first rules you should learn. The point of the offside rules in hockey is to take away an advantage of a team who skates to their offensive goal well in advance.

What is offsides in hockey?

Hockey offsides is when a player on the attacking (offensive) team enters their offensive zone before the puck. The entrance of the zone is the blue line, determined by the “determining edge.” A player must wait until the entire puck is in the offensive zone before they enter the zone.

When one or more players are offside, a ref will call offsides when:

  • An attacking player touches the puck.
  • An attacking player attempts to gain control of the puck or applies pressure to a defending player who is carrying the puck.
  • An attacking player shoots a puck directly on the goal (whether they are inside or outside their offensive zone)
    • An attacking player may shoot the puck into the zone when one of their teammates is offside, but they can not shoot on goal.

What is the determining edge?

The determining edge is an important part of what you need to know about offsides in hockey. The determining edge is the edge of either blue line, but that determining edge changes as the puck moves.

Think of it this way: the blue line is a part of whatever zone the puck is currently in. So, if the puck is in the neutral zone, both blue lines are a part of the neutral zone. Once the puck enters the offensive zone, the blue line becomes a part of the offensive zone. So, what does this mean for offsides?

  • A puck has not “entered” the offensive zone until it crosses the entire blue line and is only on the white of the offensive zone.
  • A puck has not “exited” the offensive zone until it has crossed over the entire blue line and is only on the white of the neutral zone.
  • If a puck is not yet in the offensive zone, offsides will occur when both skates of an offensive player are past the blue line (both skates do not need to be touching the white of the offensive zone if one is in the air — they just need to no longer be touching the blue line or neutral zone).

Skate positioning

A player must have both skates past the blue line to consider that they have “entered” the zone, meaning that if a part of either skate is still touching the blue line or neutral zone, then they are not yet in the zone.

If a player falls or slides into the zone, they are not considered offside until their entire body crosses the blue line.

Puck positioning

For a player to be offside, the puck must have completely passed out of the blue line and into the offensive zone. A good way to remember it is that there must be white showing between the blue line and puck for the puck to be “in” the zone.

Stick positioning

The stick of a player is not considered when determining offsides. The determination shall be made about the position of the skates and puck.

Delayed offsides

Delayed offsides is not something that is currently used in most youth hockey (they follow “automatic offsides”) so if you are used to watching youth hockey and just started your adult hockey journey, you may need to learn about delayed offsides.

Delayed offsides is when a player is already in their offensive zone (but the puck is not) and then the puck enters the zone. The offsides is delayed because there is not yet a reason to blow the whistle. The ref will raise their arm and/or let the player know he’s offside and give him the opportunity to exit the zone.

The delayed offsides will end if:

  • The puck exits the zone.
  • All players on the team exit the offensive zone (by making contact with the blue line) before re-entering. All players must be out of the zone before anyone can re-enter.

If an offensive player touches the puck in the zone while their team is offside, then the ref will blow the whistle and play will be stopped.

Intentional offsides

Intentional offsides is when a player’s teammate is already offsides and they make a play that they know will cause an offside call. An example would be shooting the puck on net when their teammate is in the zone and offside.

If this happens, the face-off spot will be all the way to the other end of the ice — in the nearest end zone face-off spot in the defending zone of the offending team.

When can you be offsides?

There are two times when you are seemingly offside, but you are not actually considered offside.

  • If a player has control of the puck and skates backward into the zone — but they must have full control of the puck when they do so.
  • If a player is offsides in their offensive zone, and then a defending player carries or shoots the puck into their defending zone, the offensive player is no longer offside.

Offsides face-off locations

When offsides has occurred, the ref will blow the whistle and point at the blue line. A face-off will take place in different places, depending on the situation. In many cases, the face-off will occur in the neutral zone, but not necessarily the one closest to the ref or closest to where the offside player entered the zone.

When the puck is carried into the zone

When a puck is carried into the zone causing offsides, the face off will be conducted at the nearest neutral zone face-off spot to where the player entered.

When the puck is passed or shot into the zone

When the puck is passed or shot into the zone causing offsides, a face off will be conducted at the closest neutral zone face-off spot to where the pass or shot originated. In other words, the face off will be conducted at the nearest face off dot to where the person who passed the puck was standing or skating.

If the offside call was an error by the ref

If an official called offsides in error, the face-off will take place at the nearest neutral zone face-off spot to where the play was stopped.

If it’s intentional offsides

If offsides is considered “intentional offsides,” the face-off spot will move al the way to the other end of the ice in the defensive zone of the team that caused the intentional offsides. The face-off will be at the nearest end zone face-off spot in the defending zone to where the offsides occurred.

Hockey: What is offsides?

Offsides in hockey is a seemingly simple rule, but as you can see by all these sub-rules, it is more complicated than you might think. Learning what hockey offsides is and how to avoid it will help you become a better hockey player.

To learn more, here is more about USA Hockey’s offside rules.