ATLANTA -- A lot of people regard Sidney Crosby as the best hockey player in the world.
But it will be a long time, if ever, before he is the game's highest-paid player.
That much was assured Thursday, when Washington winger Alex Ovechkin signed a 13-year contract extension worth an average of about $9.5 million per season.
The five-year contract Crosby's agents negotiated in July is worth an average of $8.7 million per season and will not kick in until the 2008-09 season.
Under the league's labor agreement, the terms of existing contracts cannot be revised.
But if Crosby is upset that Ovechkin will be making more than him for at least the next half-decade, it doesn't show.
"[Being upset] hasn't crossed my mind at all," he said. "That's great for him. He's done a lot in the last few years, so he deserved it."
Contracts that cover as many years as Ovechkin's remain very much the exception in the NHL, but they are becoming more common. The New York Islanders were the first to lock a player up for the bulk of his career when they gave goalie Rick DiPietro a 15-year deal, and Philadelphia center Michael Richards recently agreed to a 12-year contract.
Such agreements give players security because their money is guaranteed, while teams get fixed costs that allow them to set budgets and make other personnel decisions that are influenced by salary-cap considerations.
"You're going to see that probably more often," Crosby said. "Especially with the cap and things like that."
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar was added to the Eastern Conference squad for the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 27 in Atlanta.
Gonchar has seven goals and 27 assists in 39 games and will be appearing in his fourth All-Star Game.
Crosby, the only other Penguin in the game, was voted an Eastern Conference starter.
Penguins goalie Ty Conklin, who has won nine consecutive starts, hasn't needed much time to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with his defensemen. Not exactly a quid pro quo, necessarily, but one that clearly helps both.
Conklin, who limits the number of rebounds he allows, has benefited from having the defensemen routinely clear loose pucks from around his net, which all but eliminates second-shot scoring opportunities.
"I know that I've got to make one save, and then we're going to clear the rebound," he said. "That makes it a lot easier, knowing that you just have to be in position for one save"
At the same time, his defensemen's lives are made easier by Conklin's puckhandling, which is significantly better than that of Marc-Andre Fleury or Dany Sabourin. Because he's able to get possession of the puck and move it ahead, the defensemen don't play with their faces to the glass nearly as much, and absorb a lot less punishment from opposing forecheckers.
"His saves speak for themselves, but the way he handles the puck is the thing we're all talking about, how much easier it is on us," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's like having a third defenseman out there."
Atlanta left winger Ilya Kovalchuk has scored 36 of the Thrashers' 123 goals and could challenge a league record if that trend persists.
Kovalchuk has accounted for 29.3 percent of Atlanta's output; Pavel Bure of Florida set the standard when he recorded 29.5 percent of Florida's goals in 2000-01.
Happy as the Thrashers are with Kovalchuk's production, they would like to see the offensive diversified a bit.
"[Kovalchuk's] got such a great shot that it's obviously in our best interests to get him the puck if we can," center Todd White told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But, at the same time, I think going forward, for us to have success, we will need more consistent scoring from everybody else, too."
Coach Michel Therrien gave the Penguins yesterday off. They were scheduled to have a team dinner last night. ... Kovalchuk and center Todd White, who are former Penguin Mark Recchi's linemates, have eight-game scoring streaks. ... Former Penguins center Dominic Moore, who had one goal and two assists in 30 games with Minnesota, was claimed off waivers by Toronto. The Penguins sent Moore to the Wild in February for a third-round draft choice.