The Edmonton Oil Kings, as noted in the Coast to Coast, became the latest Western Hockey League club with a job opportunity, as the offseason coaching carousel kicked into overdrive Thursday with the announcement that Derek Laxdal will be joining the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
Laxdal, who not only won two Ed Chynoweth Cup titles in Edmonton along with the most recent MasterCard Memorial Cup, also oversaw the only two above-500 seasons in Oil Kings franchise history. From one championship team to another, he'll go to Calder Cup champion Texas, who recently lost their bench boss Willie Desjardins to the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks.
That said, the vacancy in Edmonton shouldn't be open for very long. It is an attractive position, but the word out of Northern Alberta is that associate coach Steve Hamilton will step in to the position. Hamilton has been with the club for four years and was previously a three-time winner of the AJHL Coach of the Year with the Spruce Grove Saints. He's also the son of Edmonton Oilers legend Al Hamilton, who played 455 games with the Oilers during their WHA days and whose number hangs in the rafters at Rexall Place. Nothing is concrete, however. A press release sent out by the Oil Kings suggests that the Kings will begin the "process to hire a new coach in short order", but Hamilton is the natural fit here.
Like with Mike Johnston in Portland, the departure of the head coach will change the organization's face, but the foundation is sound. Laxdal helped bring the Oil Kings into respectability after some tough early expansion seasons and helped push it into one of the premier destinations in not only the WHL, but junior hockey as a whole.
“Derek has a proven track record of developing young players to get the most out of them in a winning environment,” said Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill. “His proven leadership, familiarity with our organization and tremendous character make him a great fit with our culture. We are very excited to welcome him to the Texas Stars.”
The press release notes that Laxdal spent his pre-Edmonton days with the Stars' ECHL affiliate Idaho Steelheads, but that organization has seen a lot of turnover in the last several years, including the hiring of Jim Nill, who has been busy this summer finding more NHL talent to complement the glut of prospects the team has had for years. He'll also be fortunate to leave the Oil Kings at the right time, coming off a national championship and before next year when the team will lose many of its top players to the pro ranks including Henrik Samuelsson, Griffin Reinhart, and Reid Petryk as well as potentially Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz, Cody Corbett and Ashton Sautner.