The face of the Stanley Cup playoffs is a bearded one. It features a facial gash of some sort, perhaps a blackened eye. It is bleary-eyed, but determined.
This is the toughest trophy to win in pro sports because it takes 16 wins spread out over a couple of months against four different opponents. It takes skill and talent to be sure, but also equal amounts of grit and resiliency.
A year ago, with the help of TSN analyst Shane Hnidy -- a cup champion himself -- we offered up a comparison of the National Hockey League's final four clubs to the Winnipeg Jets to determine what factors, whether they were statistical, physical or otherwise, separated them from the loop's elite.
And now, what with the Jets still working to become a playoff team and this year's Final Four also comprising the last four Stanley Cup champions -- Pittsburgh in 2009, Chicago in 2010, Boston in 2011 and Los Angeles in 2012 -- the template is perfect for another comparison.
What separates the Jets from the best? Here is our take...
1. EXPERIENCE... BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Sorry to open up an old wound, Jets fans, but the Thrashers/Jets 2.0 franchise hasn't qualified for the post-season since 2006-07. That's no small thing, especially when comparing them to the Final Four. We pointed this out near the end of the regular season, but it bears repeating: Of the 28 players with the Jets in late April, 16 had never appeared in a playoff game. The rest, including Stanley Cup champions Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, have combined to play in 249 playoff games. Just as a point of reference, Sidney Crosby -- who is only 25 -- already has 105 playoff games under his belt, close to twice as many as the most-experienced Jet, Ladd (53 games).
The Jets, collectively, are struggling just to make the playoffs let alone actually win a series. And that's a huge difference compared to the Pens, Bruins, Hawks and Kings.
"That's the first thing for me," said Hnidy. "All these teams have been there and all of them have won it. But they've all been through the hard times, too. You can reference the (Toronto) Maple Leafs' loss in the first round to the Bruins this year... as tough as that is for them, it's also a growing period. Look at the Bruins before they won the Cup -- they had a 3-0 lead on the Flyers (in 2010, before losing) and had to overcome that. Chicago last year exited early. All these teams have had growing pains, but afterward have stuck with their core group of guys. That's critical."
Interestingly, the Jets roster could be facing a significant makeover this summer, especially with nine players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents -- Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Santorelli, Antti Miettinen, Aaron Gagnon, Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome, Derek Meech and Al Montoya.
2. STAR POWER, DEPTH AND CLEARLY DEFINED ROLES
The Final Four features some of the greatest players on the planet in Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask and many, many others. Drag your finger down the roster of any one of those squads and compare them to the Jets and the difference in talent is clear.
But what is also obvious is while the Jets have some solid pieces, their roster seems to still be in a state of transition. The top six screams out for a right winger to play alongside Evander Kane, the third line didn't provide enough offensive punch and the fourth was forever a rotating series of pieces. The Kings won last year because they could roll four lines, ditto for the Bruins two years ago and this spring.
"Look at Pittsburgh even though they've struggled against the Bruins," said Hnidy. "Yeah, they've got Crosby and Malkin. But they've got Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik... to me, that's their core and those guys have clearly defined roles.
"A coach can establish those roles, but it's finding the players who will accept those roles and shine in them. They know if they do that role, it brings success to everyone. That's a big difference between teams that consistently win and those that don't.
"Give the Jets this: I think this year (Bryan) Little, Ladd and (Blake) Wheeler established themselves as a legitimate top line. They still need to fill out that second line with Kane. Hopefully (Olli) Jokinen bounces back, but they need a right-winger for that line.
"But there isn't enough of a threat on the third line. To me, what they have on the bottom six was a revolving door of players off waivers, call-ups and the injury to Jim Slater hurt them. Their top six is more defined right now than their bottom."
3. TEAM DEFENCE
This one is ridiculously obvious, yet not so easily addressed. The Final Four ranked first (Chicago), third (Boston), seventh (Los Angeles) and 12th (Pittsburgh) in goals allowed this year. Winnipeg was 25th, having surrendered almost a goal more per game (2.95 to 2.02) than the Blackhawks. Further to that, the Jets were 18th in shots against per game (29.7) and the quality of those chances was often substantial.
Defence isn't just about the three defensive pairings, although that could be in a state of flux with Hainsey, Clitsome and Meech all unrestricted free agents, Jacob Trouba knocking on the door, Toby Enstrom battling injury problems and rumours about Dustin Byfuglien's future only growing leading into the draft on June 30.
"To me, their top four D isn't where it needs to be yet," said Hnidy. "But team defence has to become a mentality. There were periods last year where the Jets were really good defensively and I remember being in the room and the guys saying they were seeing the buy-in pay off. But there wasn't enough consistency. There's got to be more consistency, confidence and everyone wanting to do it. That comes with time, but you've got to have the right personnel willing to buy in. The more they do that, the more they win and then the easier it becomes as a sell for the coach."
4. A DOMINANT PUCK STOPPER
Near the end of the regular season, Jets head coach Claude Noel reaffirmed his belief the club can win a championship with Ondrej Pavelec in goal -- an assertion the franchise made clear a year ago when they signed him to a five-year, $19.5-million contract. The 25-year-old Czech appeared in 44 games last year and there has been growth in his game, but his numbers are actually down from his final year in Atlanta -- a 2.80 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.
During the regular season, only L.A.'s Quick (.902) had a worse save percentage than Pavelec, but the Kings' netminder has been outstanding in the post-season (.941). Tuukka Rask in Boston, Chicago's Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh's Tomas Vokoun have also played huge roles in backstopping their teams to the last four standing.
"It's hard to compare Pavelec to the other goalies still playing because of those teams' commitment to defence," said Hnidy. "It's tough when you're second or third in the league in shots faced and you wonder what Pavelec would do on a defensively sound team. I like him, he's a great young goalie who's maturing, but he still has steps to take. Mind you, there were times where he stole games for them and he's going to have to continue to do that and more."
THE FAB FOUR VS. THE JETS
A look at some of the numbers of the Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins and Bruins and how the Jets match up:
The Jets finished ninth in the Eastern Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. Their point total of 51 would have placed them 10th in the West, also four points out of the playoff picture.
Based on this year's point totals, Winnipeg would have finished fourth in its new division, behind Chicago (77), St. Louis (60) and Minnesota (55) and ahead of Dallas (48), Nashville (41) and Colorado (39).
The Jets went from having the second-best PP at home in 2011-12 to 26th.
Even in their one appearance in the playoffs in franchise history, back in 2006-07, the Thrashers' power play was ranked only 23rd overall and their penalty kill was 26th.
Average age, height and weight
Number of players per team achieving these totals:
TEAM10+ GOALS20+ GOALS30+ PTS48+ PTS
Andrew Ladd led the Jets in scoring this season with 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 48 games. The last time a player with this franchise finished with more than a point per game was in 2008-09, when Ilya Kovalchuk finished with 91 points. The following season he had 58 points in 49 games when he was traded to New Jersey because Thrashers' management was convinced he wouldn't re-sign with the team.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
(Numbers courtesy capgeek.com)
TEAM2013 CAP HITRANK
The Jets top six highest-paid forwards (Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little) earned a combined $23.1 million.
By comparison, the Pens' top six pull in $30.4 million, the Blackhawks are at $29.9 million, the Kings just under $28 million and the Bruins come in at $25.6 million.