DENVER – Pay the man.

Keeping unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny in a Colorado Avalanche uniform will be massively expensive. The cost could approach $50 million over seven or eight seasons.

No. 26 is worth it.

Stastny again proved his worth with a laser-like third-period goal that lifted the Avs to a (temporary) lead over the Minnesota Wild. The lead didn’t last, which was the norm in this violent, thrilling series. The Avalanche lost, 5-4, in overtime,  ending a season of hockey revival on the edge of the Rockies.

Stastny is a determined, effective, clutch, dangerous two-way center who attacks defense with the same hunger he brings to scoring goals.

He’s not the most colorful character. After the United States defeated Russia at the Winter Olympics, a few of my fellow sports journalists allowed the moment to overwhelm them.

Stastny was patiently answering questions when someone stuck a microphone in his face and asked, “How does this win compare to the Miracle on Ice?”

America’s “Miracle on Ice” in the 1980 Olympics is only the grandest moments in our country’s hockey history and you could argue the win even carried weight in our long Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. The win is, really, beyond compare.

Stastny smiled and spoke the obvious.

This win over Russia in the Olympic qualifying round, Stastny said, bears no comparison to the “Miracle on Ice.”

That’s Stastny. Low-key. Focused on reality. On the ice, he’s more about precision than flash. His goal Wednesday night found him in his usual position:

The exact spot where he needed to be.

Stastny launched an 18-foot shot that ripped past befuddled goalie Darcy Kuemper. The Wild goalie had no chance as Stastny and his teammates indulged in a brief celebratory dance.

As Stastny prepares for free agency, he’s been secretive about his preferences. He’s declined to talk about how much, or how little, he wants to remain in Colorado. This makes sense. He’s looking to add every possible dollar to his upcoming contract.

I believe he wants to stay. He’s lived in our state since 2004 when he arrived at the University of Denver as an 18-year-old freshman. His Colorado good times began immediately. He and his DU Pioneers rode all the way to the NCAA title in his rookie season. Fortunately for Colorado College fans, Stastny remained at DU for only two seasons.

Yes, formulating a powerful NHL team under the salary cap is a maddening endeavor. The Avs are jammed with young talent and keeping all these gifted kids on the roster will be tricky. “Super” Joe Sakic  faces a host of tough choices as he moves toward what should be a future filled with victories and, maybe, titles.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently estimated next season’s salary cap will be in the $70 million range, down from earlier estimations of $74 million. That’s a mountain of cash.

Sakic should reserve a big slice of that mountain for Stastny.

Twitter: @davidlukeramsey