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NHL commissioner Bettman says all-star experience will be 'interactive' @NHL

ATLANTA - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in town to watch the Atlanta Thrashers raise their 2006-07 Southeast Division championship banner Friday night, said local hockey fans will have another highlight with this season's all-star game.

Bettman attended the Thrashers' season-opener against Washington and will return to Atlanta for the Jan. 27 all-star game.

"We're anticipating a fun weekend that is interactive with the community and in many ways will extend beyond just the community attending the game," Bettman said.

He said more details will be announced closer to the event.

Atlanta originally was awarded the 2005 all-star game, but the game was wiped out because of the NHL work stoppage.

All-star activities already announced include the YoungStars Game and the SuperSkills Competition.

Bettman also commended the Atlanta Spirit ownership group for the way it has endured the ongoing battle with Steve Belkin for control of the Thrashers and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

Belkin suffered a setback last month when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals threw out a 2006 lower court ruling that Belkin is entitled to buy out the other owners at cost.

The other owners hope they now can proceed with buying out Belkin. Along the way in the two-year legal battle, court decisions have placed restrictions on the teams' ability to sign free agents to long-term deals or to operate beyond salary caps.

"The owners have done a very good job of dealing with the circumstance with which they all find themselves," Bettman said. "I don't believe it has impacted the operations of the club at all. I think it will be better for everybody once the litigation is finally resolved and once the ownership issue is finally stabilized."

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