CHICAGO (AP) _ The Chicago Blackhawks made their fourth coaching change in three years Tuesday, firing Lorne Molleken because they didn't think he'd lead the team to the playoffs.

``I didn't have the confidence he could do it,'' said Chicago manager of hockey operations Mike Smith. He called the decision to dismiss Molleken ``partly a gut feeling.''

The Blackhawks were 33-39-10 for 78 points, finishing 11th out of 13 Western Conference teams, and missed the playoffs for the third straight year.

Molleken did not attend Tuesday's news conference and was not immediately available for comment.

When the team missed the postseason following the 1997-98 season _ the first time in 29 years Chicago didn't qualify for the playoffs _ it fired coach Craig Hartsburg.

Dirk Graham replaced Hartsburg, but he was fired midway through the 1998-99 season. Molleken was named interim coach and earned the job by leading the Hawks to a 13-6-4 finish.

That finish sparked optimism heading into this season, but the Blackhawks struggled to a 5-14-4 record, a sluggish start that triggered a shakeup in December.

General manager Bob Murray was fired Dec. 2, and replaced by the team's senior vice president, Bob Pulford, who also took over as head coach. Molleken was demoted to associate head coach.

Despite the title change, Molleken remained the team's main operator on the bench, for practices and most other day-to-day coaching duties. Pulford was more of a senior consultant.

Ten days later, Smith was hired and anointed de facto architect of the team's rebuilding effort.

Smith said he wants to hire a new coach within a month and has a ``short list'' of candidates to replace Molleken. He would not identify any, but said none of the candidates is with a team still alive in the playoffs.

``It's important to have been a head coach,'' Smith said of his list of qualifications. ``I also think it's important to have worked in the NHL and worked with NHL players.''

Pulford will return to his senior vice president role and won't be on the bench.

Blackhawks vice president Peter J. Wirtz, the team owner's son, said hiring a new coach is entirely in Smith's hands. ``Mike knows what we need,'' Wirtz said, ``and we're going to back his decisions.''