After the retirement of head coach Ken Hitchcock on Friday, there is now a vacant position within the Dallas Stars organization that needs to be filled yet again. However this time, and more so than ever, there is quite a lot riding on who Dallas brings in to revive a team that is filled with nothing but talent and potential.
Sure, Hitchcock solved the defense problem the Stars had been working on for quite some time, but now it feels that the offense is as stagnant as the franchise has ever seen in its history. To add on, the Stars are in desperate need of a winning season with a playoff berth, and if it doesn’t come soon, there could be some changes in the front office.
The question is — who should fill that void the Stars now have? The answer is Derek Laxdal.
Laxdal was hired as the Texas Stars head coach in 2014, and in his four seasons with the T-Stars, he has lead the club to a 152-108-43 record while only missing the postseason in just one year (2016-2017), and we have yet to see what he will do with Texas in the playoffs this year.
Prior to being with the Stars, he had a four-year stint from 2010 to 2014, with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. In that time, he won two championships, made the playoffs in each subsequent year, and finished with a 182-83-23 record. Laxdal had a five-year stint (2005-2010) with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, which produced one championship, again did not miss the playoffs in each subsequent year, and closed out with a 217-108-35 record. Last but not least, he spent three years (2002-2005) as the head coach of the Wichita Thunder of the CHL. While they missed the playoffs in his first year, Laxdal had taken over the reigns as a midseason replacement for just 29 games. However, in the following years the team made it to the second round of each postseason and finished with a 87-58-8 record.
In his 15 years as a head coach, Laxdal has won three championships, made 14 trips to the postseason, recorded eight 40-win seasons, and three 50-win seasons. Dallas needs a proven winner, and while Ken Hitchcock was just that, his record wasn’t as tall in the win column in recent years. Laxdal is a proven winner, while not yet at the NHL level, but it might be worth giving him a shot by now. As GM Jim Nill pointed out, the Dallas organization are open to considering anyone with head coach experience, even if not at the NHL level - a résumé that Laxdal fits. In my mind, Laxdal has done what he has needed to in every season at each level to continue to work his way up.
For instance, some current notable examples of young coaches who have made the leap up to the NHL from its affiliate with little to no NHL coaching experience are as follows. Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins, who most recently made the jump up in 2016 and so far has a 68-28-13 record with two playoff appearances. Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning took over back in 2012 and has a 238-135-37 record and has done an outstanding job so far for putting hockey on the map out in Florida.
The path to becoming a head coach in the NHL goes through its affiliate down in the AHL and can come down to whether you take that chance on the young coach that is the difference. For Dallas, I believe, why hire from outside the organization when there is a proven coach right underneath the organization’s nose? Laxdal has done a terrific job at each level, with not only developing players for the NHL, but also turning each organization he has been with into a winning playoff culture.
While it is obvious that the Stars have the talent and potential to attract a coach from elsewhere, I think the search simply needs to stay within the organization and see what Laxdal can do at this next level. It would be intriguing to see what he could muster up with the talent already on the roster and the freedom to play around with a different style. Why not give him primed players like Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg to go out and prove himself? Dallas needs a winning season, and who knows, maybe Derek Laxdal is the answer that has been right there all along.