Colorado Avalanche New Year's Resolutions

James CriderCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2009

OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 30:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the puck up ice while being chased by Alex Kovalev #27 of the Ottawa Senators in a game at Scotiabank Place on December 30, 2009 in Ottawa, Canada.  (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Once again, the new year is rapidly approaching. It's the unique spectacle in life where we sit around a television with our loved ones, waiting for a crystal ball to drop so we can toast each other and give best wishes for the upcoming year. 

We follow this by making a set of ridiculous promises with ourselves to better our lives in some way, with those promises rarely being kept.

But the Avalanche are miracle workers.

Through all the injuries, inexperience, and doubt from the media, they stormed to first place in the Northwest Division and have found a way to stay there for 41 games.

So, while it's selfish of someone to ask for even more from a first-place team originally expected to be the next destination of consensus No. 1 pick Taylor Hall, there's a few things the Avalanche might want to consider doing in the new year:

Close Out Games Better

This is a big one. Colorado can seemingly outplay any team in the first two periods of a game, but go into a shell in the final frame. Instead of making outlet passes from their own zone, they chip the puck up the boards and sit back.

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Over the past 20 games, they've been outscored 29-13 in the third period, and out shot nearly two-to-one. One can only wonder what goes on in Craig Anderson's mind during the second intermission, knowing that he has another 15 to 20 shots to stop ahead of him.

Trade a Defenseman

Everyone knew this would be a problem before the season began, and now that players are returning to injury the issue of too many defensemen is brought to the forefront.

Wednesday's 4-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators saw the Avalanche sit defensemen John-Michael Liles (healthy scratch), Ruslan Salei (injured reserve), and Tom Preissing (AHL assignment). Those three players have a combined salary cap hit of $9.97 million, and they weren't even in the lineup.

Most notably Liles, the de facto No. 1 defensemen for the Avalanche the past few years, couldn't even crack the line-up because 22-year-old Kyle Cumiskey returned from injury.

The team has other needs (like a scoring left wing), so hopefully management is able to work out a deal.

Learn from the Mistakes of Others This Offseason

The Avalanche are going to have a lot of money to spend this offseason; $28.5 million to be exact. There are a few key players who will be re-signed, but the Avalanche should still have a nice chunk of change (at least $15 million) to work with.

Don't do anything with it.

Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Christobal Huet, Wade Redden, Brian Campbell, Daniel Briere, Jeff Finger, Alexei Kovalev, Michael Nylander...The bloated salaries of those players are prime examples of teams with too much money to spend, trying too hard to improve their roster. Every one one of those players has underperformed greatly, but make top coin because the GM who signed them either got desperate or overvalued their skills.

Colorado has a lot of young skilled players coming up, some of which who may come out of nowhere (like Ryan Wilson this year). There's no reason the Avalanche should handcuff themselves by signing a decent player like Olli Jokinen or Pavel Kubina, only to watch their homegrown talent leave because they can't afford to re-sign them.

Signing a star talent like a Kovalchuk or Marleau might be a good idea (for the right price), but Avalanche management will have to be careful not to burn themselves on short-term fixes.

Continue to be Young and Smart

No one gave the Avalanche the memo that they were supposed to be horrible this year. Hopefully no one gives it to them the second half of the season.

Even 41 games into the season, the media still doesn't know how Colorado is winning games. TSN commentator Chris Cuthbert spoke about this before the Avalanche's game against the Senators, and at the end of the game finally came to the realization that they're actually a pretty good team.

The phrase "young and stupid" is thrown around a lot, but I'm calling the Avalanche young and smart . They're smart because they know how good they are, even though the rest of the NHL still hasn't figured it out, despite a 104-point pace halfway through the season.

For a team with no expectations and given little respect, I can honestly say this has been one of the most fun Avalanche teams to watch in the entire decade.

Let's hope the fun continues in 2010.

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