When Lance Franklin finally tells Hawthorn his plans for next year, the shock will only come if he informs the club that he's staying. The Hawks think he has gone to the land of the Giants and have thought so for quite a while.
But the player they'll be losing isn't quite the same one from 12 months ago, when Buddy booted a wasteful 3.4 and would have brought home the premiership bacon – and the Norm Smith Medal – had he kicked as accurately as Jack Gunston did on Saturday.
The forward they're expected to relinquish for the greater good of expansion – and more than a few dollars more – isn't the Franklin of 2012, much less the spry 2008 version who booted the last century of goals by an AFL player.
Consider the words long used to describe Buddy: flamboyant, brilliant, erratic, hedonistic, individualistic, swaggering, unconventional – and compare them with those that reflect Franklin's finals series and grand final: blue collar, team-oriented, role-playing, steady, courageous (he took a huge hit for the team in the third quarter when backing into Chris Mayne).
People fundamentally don't change their core selves, and Franklin hasn't lost his ability, self-belief or tendency to run his own creative race. What's changed is his role.
One of the critical differences between Hawthorn of 2012 and 2013, between silver and gold medals, was that the Hawks weaned themselves off Franklin this year to the point that he became, not a superstar forward and fulcrum of the attack but a solid citizen and role player.
Gunston booted 11 goals in Hawthorn's three finals. Buddy managed two in his pair of finals games. Gunston's goals, in a sense, came at Franklin's expense, because the Hawks revamped their forward structure to make it less susceptible to defences – like Geelong and Fremantle – that zone off and cover the high ball.
In the new attack, Gunston played deeper more frequently, with cameos higher up the ground. Jarryd Roughead, who won the Coleman Medal, was clearly the major tall target, though even Roughie would head upfield and get involved in centre bounces.
Ruckman David Hale spent his share of time stationed deep in the forward 50-metre arc. Cyril Rioli and Luke Breust were the silky smalls, with Paul Puopolo providing groundball grunt.
In this ''all for one'' forward line, Franklin, by necessity, wasn't the tall, deep target so often, and really became a tall half-forward flanker. He wasn't required to kick multiple goals. If he won possessions, got up the field and presented – dragging a formidable opponent such as Luke McPharlin or Tom Lonergan with him – while contesting and tackling hard, then he would have done his job.
Clearly, Buddy wasn't strutting on Broadway in this revamped attack, which took shape in the second half of 2013. Coach Alastair Clarkson and his assistant Adam Simpson did a marvellous job of getting Buddy to accept a role that wasn't so glamorous. But Clarkson didn't single out Franklin for a reduced role, either. He was just the most obvious example of a flag built on the collective. The premiership was predicated on the words of the club song: ''All for one and one for all/is the way we play at Hawthorn.''
In 2008, the superstars were essential. Buddy booted a ton, Luke Hodge won the Norm Smith and propped up the defence. Roughead booted 75 goals and Sam Mitchell was the stoppage maestro. While only Hodge starred in the grand final, the superstars' share of the team's total output was far higher than in 2013.
The Hawks weaned themselves off Franklin this year to the point that he became, not a superstar forward and fulcrum of the attack but a solid citizen and role player.
Clarkson, quite intentionally, has reconstructed the Hawks into a team of interchangeable, flexible and yes, dispensable players.
''He's created an environment where everyone plays a role rather than having … the dominance of one central figure,'' Hawthorn chief executive Stuart Fox said of Clarkson, who will be the subject of talks about a contract extension beyond next year. ''That's been his greatest strength. This year, the injection of some new talent and players has been really beneficial for our list.''
Hodge is important for leadership and providing on-field navigation, but he can be covered by the collective of left-footed smart guys and toughies.
Mitchell, so essential to conquering Geelong, was smothered by Ryan Crowley on Saturday, yet the Hawks found a way to win the stoppages. Roughead, certainly, is important, but he kicked only two goals in the grand final, none in the preliminary final and two in the qualifying final.
Brian Lake, as it happened, was probably the one they needed most on the day.
So, while Buddy will be missed if, as everyone assumes, he leaves, it's less of a loss than it might have been 12 months ago. Fox said the club was prepared for either scenario. He called the decision ''imminent''.
The Hawks' management of Franklin has been critical to winning the flag on two fronts. First, they didn't allow the distractions to upset their mission – as many thought it might. ''Everyone in the media world said this is going be a huge distraction, but hey, now the proof's in the pudding – we've got a premiership and we haven't let it distract us at all,'' said Fox.
No less significant was the way the Hawks reduced their reliance on Buddy, made him a cog and put more eggs in other baskets. Whatever they might lose in Franklin, they got the essential flag.