Stars’ New Assistant Coach Laxdal Has Potential

With former head coach Jim Montgomery dismissed from the Dallas Stars, coaches from across the organization were moved up a peg in order to fill team needs. New to Dallas, the organization pulled Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal to take over the Stars power play. Being a new face to the organization and the Stars’ power play being suspect at times this season, Laxdal comes in with fans asking questions about his impact.

The Stars failed to convert a power play Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils, but much of the game can be chalked up to short notification for the staff. The effects of the former American Hockey League coach are clouded in mystery. But to find an educated prediction, fans can analyze his resume.

A Player & Coach

Laxdel is a former NHL veteran right wing of six seasons, who played for both the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He saw limited time on the ice, but he recorded 12 goals and 19 points. He also recorded international experience with the Canadian National Team during the 1992- 93 season. The majority of his career was spent across various leagues including the AHL, ECHL, and Western Hockey League.

Laxdal is veteran coach with 19 years of experience in the minors. In 2000, he began his coaching career as an assistant with the Odessa Jackalopes in the now-defunct Western Professional Hockey League.  As a head coach, Laxdal has won three championships and three additional finals appearances across the ECHL, AHL, and CHL. He joined the Stars organization in 2005 with the Idaho Steelheads and joined the Texas Stars in 2014. When he took the head coaching job in Austin, general manager Jim Nill spoke highly of Laxdal’s winning track record. 

“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.”

Derek Laxdal
Derek Laxdal (Photo credit: Michael Connell/Texas Stars Hockey)

Given his time in the Stars organization, Laxdal has experience working with forwards like Justin Dowling, Jason Dickinson, and Denis Gurianov. With time spent with those players, Laxdal will be able pick up developing some of the Stars younger forwards on the power play. 

Expectations this Season

With Laxdal being a proven winner and an experienced forward as a player, it should be no surprise he’s assuming an offensive position as an assistant. When Laxdal took his former position with the AHL team, he emphasized the offensive fundamentals that the NHL Stars are at times lacking on the power play.

“You’ll see an up-tempo game, but there are rules in place about how we play,” Laxdal said in 2014. “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.”

Denis Gurianov Texas Stars
Denis Gurianov, Texas Stars (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Dallas is currently converting 17.2% of their power play opportunities, the 11th worst in the NHL. Raising the Stars percentage on the power play will priority number one for Laxdal. This season with the AHL Stars, the team is only converting 14.3% of their power plays. However, the team still has an effective offense, scoring 76 goals and turned a corner winning seven of their last eight games.

The reality of the minors also has players coming and going, so Laxdal will have a chance at the NHL level to develop and build off a core group of players. If the Stars can master the offensive style Laxdal pushes for, the team could add more firepower to their special teams.

Promising Future

How the Stars move forward from Montgomery’s firing is still a mystery, but the immediate reality is the current staff will likely be in place for the rest of the season. Despite the change in leadership, the franchise has a unique opportunity to invest in its future. Whether Rick Bowness does well or not, calling Laxdal up to the NHL gives him a chance to learn the highest level of coaching from an experienced bench boss.

Bowness has been coaching at the professional level since 1984 and is a master on defense. Laxdal is the opposite, a less-experienced coach with a forte for offense. Bowness could groom Laxdal as the future Stars head coach, sharing his experience and defensive expertise.

It’s not a stretch of a scenario. Many NHL coaches have come via the minors and 23 of the coaches in the league have AHL experience. That number includes three in the Central Division. Earlier this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs dismissed Mike Babcock in favor of their AHL coach, Sheldon Keefe.

Adding Laxdal to Bowness’ staff is a promising opportunity for the Stars, and watching his tenure in the NHL is something fans should pay close attention to.