Hawks fire GM Mike Smith, name Pulford interim replacement

Updated: October 24, 2003, 8:14 PM ET

CHICAGO - Mike Smith was fired as general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, losing a power struggle with coach Brian Sutter.

Smith had just begun his fourth season as the Blackhawks' GM and his third year working with Sutter, whom he hired in May 2001. But Sutter and Smith didn't see eye-to-eye, and management chose the coach.

"I've been through this," Smith said. "I'm not shocked or surprised in this business."

"The general manager and the coach were not on the same page," Blackhawks senior vice president Bob Pulford said. "As time went on here, they were just getting farther and farther apart, and it became apparent that it wasn't going to work."

Pulford, the Blackhawks' former long-time coach and general manager, was given his fourth stint as GM, this time in an interim role.

The Blackhawks have been one of the worst teams in the NHL in recent seasons, making the playoffs just once since 1997. They failed to get out of the first round in 2002.

The product on the ice has translated to the stands at the United Center, where the Blackhawks have the worst attendance in the NHL. Some have questioned the franchise's stability.

"The stability of this franchise is not in question and has never been in question," Pulford countered. "We have probably the most stable franchise in this league and have been here a long time.

"As far as the fans, you get what you deserve. In the 1980s and 1990s, we had a good team and the building was packed. And if we build a good team, the building will be packed again."

Pulford will have to begin the rebuilding process himself, at least for a while. He said the Wirtz family is not necessarily in a hurry to hire a new GM, but to hire the right GM.

"I think they're going to make sure that they get the right person and make sure this franchise is on the right track," Pulford said.

Pulford may not be the right person right now. He admitted that he hasn't been to games - other than those involving the Blackhawks - for years.

"Quite honestly, with the exception of TV, I don't go to other games very often," he said. "For the last three to five years, I haven't been to any games. I watch lots of games on television. I have a fair knowledge of the players."

It was less Smith's knowledge of players than his icy relationship with Sutter that cost him his job. Smith reportedly wanted the younger players to see more ice time, a view Sutter didn't share.

"I think they come from two different sides of the street and maybe they were never going to get along," Pulford said.

"Everybody knows the side of the street I'm on," said Smith, thought to be from the 'new school.' "A lot of people over the years haven't agreed with that side of the street, but over the years more and more people have been on that side."

Smith leaves a team filled with his draft picks, including seven rookies, the most coveted being 20-year-old Finnish center Tuomo Ruutu. But none of his selections have made an impact on the team.

Sutter ended up having the biggest impact on Smith, who admitted that he regrets hiring the coach.

"One of the things I would do (different) is keep Lorne Molleken as coach," Smith said. "But I'm not going to second-guess myself. Some things worked out and some things didn't work out."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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