After having a big week acquiring players, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill made another significant move Thursday, naming Derek Laxdal as the new head coach of the Texas Stars. Laxdal, who led the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup this past season, has an impressive track record. Laxdal wins where ever he goes.
He won two WHL titles and one Memorial Cup in four seasons with Edmonton. He coached Dallas’ ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads, for five seasons, leading them to a Kelly Cup championship in 2007 and back to the Finals in 2010.
“He’s won at every level. He’s been very successful,” said Nill. “He’s still a young man, very energetic, his goal is to get to the NHL and this is the next stepping stone. He just finished winning the Memorial Cup in Edmonton with a team he wasn’t supposed to win with. We’re just excited to get a guy of his caliber after losing Willie Desjardins.”
Desjardins, who moved on to the head coaching job with the Vancouver Canucks, led the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup championship this past season. He was the AHL’s Coach of the Year in 2012-13. Finding strong successor to Desjardins was key for Nill.
“It was imperative,” said Nill. “When I talk about our team up here, to have success it is going to be about drafting and it is going to be about developing. To develop players you have to have a good minor league system and you have to have a good coach to be successful at that level. It’s important to win, it’s important to develop. His job is to do both of those.”
For Laxdal, who was on the radar of a lot of teams after his success in Edmonton, it’s a good fit as well. He’s familiar with the organization and likes where the Stars are headed under Nill.
“It’s a win-win situation. It’s a relationship with [Texas GM] Scott White and [Dallas assistant GM] Les Jackson, and getting to know Jim Nill was outstanding,” Laxdal said. “I felt really comfortable, good about the interview process and the direction they want to go with the development model. There’s the upswing of the Dallas Stars and the success of the Texas Stars. It was a no-brainer.”
The 48-year-old Laxdal has 11-plush seasons of head coaching experience in the Central Hockey League, ECHL and WHL. He has posted a 486-249-66 record for an impressive .648 points percentage over his career. He took over an Edmonton team that had won just 16 games the previous season, led them to the playoffs in his first season and then to three straight WHL Finals, two WHL titles and one Memorial Cup over the next three seasons.
“He’s a great coach,” said Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock, Dallas’ second round pick (45th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft. “He knows how to handle his players. Obviously, going to the championship three years in a row that’s a tremendous resume for a coach. He’s a great guy and he really knows what to do with his players.”
Laxdal played both in the AHL and NHL. He won a Calder Cup as a player with Springfield in 1990. He played 67 NHL games with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.
“He’s played pro hockey, so he has a feel for the pro game,” Nill said. “The guys in our hockey department know him very well, so there was a good connection there. I’ve watched him in junior and he’s done a good job. I watched at the Memorial Cup, his team was probably the underdog and they won it. I’ve seen him play a lot. It was a good connection.”
Laxdal will take over a Texas team that has had a lot of success in its first five years of existence, making the playoffs four times, appearing in the Calder Cup Finals twice and winning the Calder Cup once. Dallas has stocked the AHL club with a good stable of prospects and more are in the pipeline.
“They’ve got some exceptional players coming,” said Laxdal.
Texas played an up tempo game under Desjardins and Dallas plays up tempo under head coach Lindy Ruff. Laxdal said expect a similar style with him behind the bench.
“You’ll see an up tempo game, but there are rules in place about how we play,” Laxdal said. “It’s puck possession, puck protection, puck management. We’re not going to trap. The blue lines will be important to us, going to the front of the net, playing with a bit of an edge. We are not reinventing the wheel here. … I’ve been fortunate to have success over my career and hopefully I can have success in Texas.”
Laxdal was scheduled to coach Canada in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament later this summer, but he thinks that won’t happen now because of the work he needs to do to prepare for the Texas job.
He’ll coach Dallas prospects at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan in September. He’s done that before, coaching the Stars’ prospects to the tournament championship in 2008.
And that’s more evidence that Laxdal wins where ever he goes.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.