Assuming there's a season, of course

ATLANTA -- The NHL All-Star Game is coming to Atlanta for the first time next season -- provided there is a next season.

The league's collective bargaining agreement expires in September, and there are expectations that negotiations will be stormy, possibly resulting in a lockout. If that's the case, the season could be lost.

"We're focused on playing next season," Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said Thursday. "Our goal right now is to play hockey and let the league work out the CBA issues. It's business as usual for us."

In 1994-95, the NHL season was cut to only 48 games per team when players were locked out by owners from Oct. 1, 1994, until Jan. 19, 1995. The fear is that if a deal isn't struck in time to start next season, a stoppage will be much longer this time.

The NHL is seeking cost certainty, which could be in the form of a salary cap. That's a system the players' association is not willing to accept.

"It's one of those issues that we'll deal with at the necessary time," Waddell said.

If the All-Star Game is held, it will be the third time in five years the city has hosted such an event.

"This is an opportunity for us to showcase for our fans the best players in the world," Waddell said. "It really puts us in the spotlight."

Last year, the NBA played its All-Star Game in Atlanta, and the baseball version was held at Turner Field in 2000. The NHL game will be Feb. 13, 2005.

"We'll be attracting attention from the sports world, all around Georgia and the rest of the world," Mayor Shirley Franklin said. "The implication of hosting this event is really going to bring big things to us."

This year's NHL All-Star Game is Sunday in St. Paul, Minn.

Last season, Thrashers right wing Dany Heatley was chosen MVP after scoring four goals for the Eastern Conference in a 6-5 loss.