has become a much-wanted defenseman early in his hockey career. It's a development that both flatters and puzzles him.
Lashoff was traded for the second time in as many years last week, this time from the Tampa Bay to the Toronto organization. While that sort of movement is all part of the deal, it's a little surprising when it involves a player who was the No. 22 pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, one who has yet to reach his 24th birthday.
Yet there was Lashoff a few days ago, after getting news of the swap, turning to his younger brother Brian and commenting that this wasn't the way he saw things unfolding after the Bruins drafted him.
"It's been an interesting run for me so far," Matt said. "It's a little bit of a shock to your system. It's time for me to take control of things. I feel like I've done a lot of things in increments."
The slow and steady route works for a bit, then wears thin. Lashoff has skated in 234 AHL games with Norfolk and Providence, and 63 more with Boston and Tampa Bay. Last season he had 8 goals and 24 points in 68 games for the Admirals, a comedown after finishing strong with Tampa Bay in 2008-09 following a trade from the Bruins.
"It's always tough to be in an organization that's making total changes," Lashoff said. "Obviously I wasn't a part of (Tampa Bay's) plans, which is no problem for me. I think at certain times last year I wasn't playing to my assets. I was trying to fit into what other people wanted. I was thinking way too much. I just have to go out and play. The biggest thing for me is to almost relax and play my game."
Lashoff understands what skeptics say about his finesse style, those who wonder why a young player taken so high is already with his third organization. He's been letting the doubts simmer into his summer workouts as he tries to put some power into his puck-moving game, at least enough to compete in the grimier parts of his position.
"It's the most intense training I've been a part of. This year, it's kind of a fresh start," he said. "There's numerous amounts of players that it hasn't worked out for right away. It takes time for things to materialize. It's not been all rosy for me. That just makes you want it more. The only thing I can ask for going into any situation is an opportunity. If that happens, then it's on my shoulders.''
DiPenta not worried about what might have been
-- Defenseman Joe DiPenta
takes the sunny approach toward his signing an AHL deal with the Syracuse Crunch last week.
"It felt like they wanted me," DiPenta said of parent club Anaheim. "It was the second time they tried to sign me."
Looking back, DiPenta wishes he'd said yes after the first courtship -- not that he can do anything about it now.
When free agency started, the Ducks offered DiPenta, who played with Portland of the AHL last season, a two-way, NHL-AHL deal. He declined, saying he wanted to check out what else might be available later. However, there wasn't much to see. He got no other two-way offers, so he jumped on Anaheim's subsequent pitch of an AHL pact.
If there was a time that DiPenta felt like kicking himself for the delay, it's past.
"That's just the way the business side of it goes. It didn't really work out as well as I hoped it would," he said. "Now here we are. It's just one of those things that happen. Sometimes it works out in your favor, sometimes it doesn't. I'm fine with it. I'm not discouraged by any means. I'm the one who made the decision. If I go out and play well and they want to make room for me in the NHL, that will happen."
Considering DiPenta's background with the Ducks, that might be more than mere preseason pining.
DiPenta, 31, was looking like a career AHL player when he skated for Manitoba in 2004-05. At that point he had skated in just three NHL games. But with the Moose he played for coach Randy Carlyle
and Bob Murray
, who was a scout with parent club Vancouver.
The next season, Carlyle took over on the Ducks' bench and Murray moved into Anaheim's front office. They brought DiPenta along with them, and in the next three seasons he played in 171 games for Anaheim and won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2006-07.
"It feels great. It feels like I'm coming home to the organization I played the most for, and that I had the most success with," DiPenta said. "I'm excited to be still playing and be with an organization I have a lot of history with."
The last chapter didn't end the way DiPenta might have written it, though, which underscores his current challenge. He was the seventh defenseman with Anaheim his final season there, in 2007-08, playing in just 23 games. He hasn't skated in the NHL since.
"There's numerous amounts of players that it hasn't worked out for right away. It takes time for things to materialize. It's not been all rosy for me. That just makes you want it more. The only thing I can ask for going into any situation is an opportunity. If that happens, then it's on my shoulders." -- Matt Lashoff
"I prided myself on being ready. It was a character-building year," he said. "I'm not gifted skill-wise. I just had to prove myself every day. It humbles you. But it was a good experience to see what that role is like. When I see a guy in that role, I can definitely identify with him."
Flanagan coming full circle
-- Back in the day, Mike Flanagan
could sense it right away.
Flanagan was a defenseman for the original Admirals, with Hampton Roads of the ECHL in the team's inaugural 1989-90 season. That was also Flanagan's first year as a pro, but even then it was obvious he was helping to start a franchise that would have some legs.
"Those were exciting days. It was a wonderful place to play," he said. "I thought the fan support was very good. It was just a fun time."
It's been a long and winding stretch since then -- 21 seasons to be exact. But Flanagan is back in the area, now represented by Norfolk of the AHL. Tampa Bay named him an assistant coach with the team last week.
"It makes for an interesting story," Flanagan said. "I never thought I'd be back in Norfolk, but strange things happen."
Or maybe it isn't so strange. When you bounce around a lot, sometimes you hook onto the right connection without even knowing it.
Flanagan, 41, joins the Admirals after spending the last two seasons with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League. Prior to joining the Wildcats, Flanagan was general manager and coach of the NAHL's Kenai River Brown Bears for the 2007-08 season.
In 2006-07, Flanagan was an assistant coach with the NAHL's St. Louis Bandits. The coach of that team was Jon Cooper -- the same Jon Cooper who was named coach of Norfolk last month and who decided it would be a good idea to reunite with Flanagan.
"We hit it off pretty well," Flanagan said of the Bandits days. "We have good synergy on the bench together. We're just hoping to get back to that."
Stirling happy to take on Binghamton challenge
-- The crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean clearly are audible across the phone line when Steve Stirling takes a call outside his new home in Scituate, Mass.
It's a calming backdrop, one that most people who are 60, like Stirling, look to settle into, not leave.
But the house has withstood pounding storms for about a century, give or take, so it figures to be there for a while. The same can't be said of an opportunity to coach at a high level of pro hockey. Between the two choices, Stirling's decision of which to enjoy for the next several months was an easy one.
Ottawa named Stirling an assistant coach with Binghamton last week. He brings with him three decades of coaching experience, including three stops as an AHL coach (Bridgeport, Springfield and Norfolk), one as an NHL bench boss (the New York Islanders
), plus time spent working in Germany two seasons ago and Italy last season.
"When you get to the top, you never get the chance to enjoy it. It's been an eye-opener the past couple of years, watching the development of hockey around the world," he said. "It's no longer about (job) titles. It's no longer about climbing the corporate ladder. I'm at that point in my career where it's all about challenges. I'd like to think I'm pretty versatile. Because of that, maybe I bring to the table more than the average coach."