DENVER (CBS4) – When ranking the professional teams in Colorado, the Avalanche would find themselves fighting for third with the Rockies, and considering there are far more baseball than hockey fans, that means right now the Avs are fourth in the hearts and minds of most Colorado sports fans.

Part of the problem is fans don’t believe the Avs are doing everything they can to put the best possible team on the ice. They’re currently spending $18 million or $19 million less than the salary cap permits. But it’s not fair to say the team has turned frugal without a very good reason.

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“Well they had the top payroll – Top 5 – in 2008, 2009, and they finished 28th in the league,” said Adrian Dater, sports writer with the Denver Post. “Everybody was griping that they overpaid for all these guys.”

The Avs did open their pocket book for players like Paul Stastny. He makes $6 million a year. And for David Jones — he makes $4 million. So far neither has played up to his paycheck.

“Individuals are all different, I think. I put pressure on myself, different guys put pressure on themselves, some people ease up, some people want to keep performing; that’s the way I do it,” Stastny told CBS4’s Gary Miller. “Day in and day out I want to be the best that I can be.”

Considering their brilliant history in Colorado, there’s certainly pressure on the entire organization to return to its winning ways. CBS4 wanted to ask General Manager Greg Sherman or another team official about that and the current state of the Avs, but they declined the request for an interview.

The Avs believe they’re rebuilding the right way by drafting wisely and getting players like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly. But O’Reilly and the Avs are at a crossroads. He’s holding out for $5 million a year. The Avs have offered $3.5 million. Fans might think that’s not a large difference and it’s easy for them to say the Avs are being cheap, but their philosophy is to pay a player what they believe he’s really worth.

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“They have taken what they call a principal stand on this and they are not going to pay any more than they did to Matt Duchene,” Dater said.

Duchene is exactly the kind of player the Avs think will return them to their glory days. He’s a home-grown player who’s rebounded from a shaky season, and is now enjoying a great season so far. He’s a young man who knows and understands what the Avs used to be.

“I grew up idolizing this team and I’d like nothing more than to be part of a team that gets back into the deep playoff runs and the sold out crowds and a lot of hype around the city,” Duchene said. “That’s what we’re all aiming for in here. We’d all like to be a part of it, that’s for sure.”

But that will take time, and that’s a problem. The Avs have missed the playoffs two of the last three seasons, and four of the last six. They still own the longest home sellout streak in NHL history, but it ended in 2006. Tickets are easy to come by now.

Time has been the Avs’ greatest enemy. It caught up to the Roys, the Sakics and the Forsbergs. And now after several seasons of mediocrity, a fan base that took winning for granted back in the day has shown signs of apathy in recent years. It’s not easy to be patient, but for Avs fans — for now — there’s really not a choice.

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“There’s still reason for optimism for the Colorado Avalanche. I know fans are impatient, they want to win now, they won two Stanley Cups, this team. We all got spoiled in this town and people want the good old days back. We’re finding out that it takes time,” Dater said.