Earlier this offseason, Mark Monroe (@MonroeBlade) made an announcement that raised the eyebrows of ECHL fans everywhere in collective curiosity. Esteemed veteran defenseman Matt Register would not be returning to Toledo for the upcoming season. In an instant, Register became one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. A four-time ECHL all-star, three-time ECHL Kelly Cup Champion, and three-time ECHL Defenseman of the Year, Register has serious bonafides. On August 31, it was announced Register would spend the 2019-20 season with the same team he began his professional career with: the Allen Americans.
Register first ventured into the minor league hockey scene with the Americans when they were still in the Central Hockey League (CHL) during the 2011-12 season. During his rookie season, Register tallied one goal and three assists in 22 games. Since then, it’s safe to say that as he’s honed his skills and become one of the most revered defensemen in the current minor league hockey landscape. A veteran of 403 ECHL regular-season games with 319 points, Register is the current points leader among active defensemen in the ECHL. Off the ice, Register brings invaluable leadership to an Allen locker room coming off a disappointing last-place finish. More precisely, what does Register’s arrival mean for Allen, and how does the decision not to re-sign him shape the identity of the Walleye moving forward?
ALLEN GAINS A TOP-CALIBER DEFENSEMAN THAT POSSESSES THE ABILITY TO DICTATE PLAY DURING ALL SEGMENTS OF THE GAME
What Allen gets with Register is more than evident to anyone that follows the ECHL. The awards and recognition he has received in previous seasons speak for themselves, but then there are his stats. During the last three seasons, Register has put up 0.85 points per game (which is an incredible figure for a defenseman), and when broken down, Register shows that he’s lethal during all situations. Notably, his share of even-strength points as a percentage of his total points has climbed over the past three seasons. Also, the consistency in even-strength goals and primary assists uphold the argument that his remarkable production is not a fluke. Below is a complete breakdown of Register’s points over the past three seasons. It’s interesting to note that he has accumulated points in every possible type of on-ice situation, but his play at 5-on-5 and on the power play is remarkable.
In terms of how Allen could use Register most effectively this upcoming season, his style of play in the offensive zone points to strength in shooting from the blue line to generate chances for forwards by way of deflections and rebounds. Coupling Register’s shooting along with his ability to quarterback a power play unit should prove him invaluable to the Americans who appeared to struggle on the man advantage last year. When considering the potential options he will have to work with on the power play, like forward Gabriel Gagne, it’s easy to for Allen fans to become even more eager for the return of Register. Ironically, the Toledo Walleye released a video spotlighting these strengths when they initially signed Register for last season. Take note of how many of these highlights are during power play scenarios.
TOLEDO’S DECISION NOT TO RE-SIGN REGISTER POINTS TO COACH DAN WATSON’S CONFIDENCE IN ROSTER BUILDING
Register played an enormous role in the unprecedented success that the Walleye experienced last season; this much is very obviously known. He was easily the Walleye’s most offensive defenseman last season. Looking beyond point totals, Register’s offensive production is quantified in Sean O’Brien’s (@SeanOBrien81) ECHL Defensive Point Shares chart from his Tableau page. Register had a combined point share total of 6.976 and ranked in the 86.22% of ECHL defensemen, easily justifying his spot on the top pair.
So why would coach Dan Watson opt not to have Register return? The most logical explanation would point to the fact that ECHL teams may only roster four veterans (individuals who have played at least 260 regular season professional games) excluding goaltenders. This offseason, Toledo has signed veterans Shane Berschbach, Zack Phillips, and T.J. Hensick, meaning other veterans like Chris Crane, A.J. Jenks, and Register have had to find new homes for the 2019-20 season. It’s nothing against those players leaving; turnover happens at a significant rate every year in the ECHL, and the rules apply to all players regardless of whether or not they’re a fan favorite.
Watson’s duty is to construct the best team he possibly can for the upcoming season. If he believes a championship team can be formed with different players, then more power to him. Although decisions like Watson’s frequently leave fan bases questioning, these types of decisions get me excited as they open up the door to countless other exciting possibilities. After coming up just short of the ultimate goal last season, it’s evident that Watson knows what he’s doing and has an excellent idea of what he wants his team to look like heading towards the future, even if that does mean moving forward without a few familiar pieces. The personnel moves also send a message to more inexperienced players that big shoes are in need of being filled; defensive acquisitions like Blake Hillman and Mark Auk will be called to step up.
LOOKING FORWARD FOR ALLEN AND TOLEDO
Regardless of your stance on the decisions of both Watson and Register, one thing is for sure: both the Americans and Walleye will look quite different this upcoming season after nearly opposite 2018-19 campaigns. How it will all play out is something we will see over the next nine months, but until then, enjoy the player movement as more signings come to light. Walleye fans, don’t freak out over Register’s absence on the opening night roster and give the new guys a chance first. As for Allen fans, October 11 isn’t that far away, and the Americans are looking to make a strong return with a proven player for their swing at #REDemption.