One of Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson's most famous sayings is that "when you lose one solider, you replace him with another one". But reigning Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell is no ordinary soldier.
On Friday, news broke that the Hawthorn ball-magnet would likely miss the entire 2019 season after breaking his leg at training, and it begs the question of just how do you cover the loss of someone like Mitchell -- a man who is 25 and in the prime of his career?
The obvious hole left by Mitchell is the production and work rate in the middle of the ground; in 2018, he averaged 35.3 touches per game (16 contested) and was a workhorse who constantly pushed himself into the best positions to impact play.
Compared to 2017, Mitchell also upped his production in both the forward and back 50 arcs, amassing career-high averages of five inside 50s and two rebound 50s per game.
To illustrate the impact of the loss of Mitchell, Tab.com.au noted that Hawthorn's premiership odds spiked from a modest $13 before the news to $26 following Hawthorn's announcement of his broken leg. To even make the top 8 the Hawks are now sitting at $2.5 up from $1.75 prior to the Mitchell injury.
Clarkson might like to say you simply fill the hole with the next guy in line, but Hawthorn's reserves of A-grade accumulators who also showcase high impact-per-possession is waning.
The issue for the Hawks is the injury-prone nature of their other established midfielders.
Despite having secured Tom Scully in a low-risk, high-reward trade with the GWS Giants, Scully himself is coming off a serious lower leg injury and still does not have a date penciled in for his return - let alone a return to his form of 2016 and 2017.
Shaun Burgoyne certainly is one of the Hawks' -- if not the league's -- biggest "highest impact-per-possession" stars, but his production numbers are predictably falling as he enters the twilight of his career.
In 2018, he averaged just 18 touches per game and missed two long chunks of football with hamstring trouble, and cannot be realistically relied upon to shoulder the heavy load throughout 2019.
Emerging star Jaeger O'Meara had a career-best season in 2018 but is not an accumulator, and while Hawthorn fans know what they're going to get with Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels, their roles are simply not comparable to the clearance and contested beast which Mitchell proved to be last season.
One off-season acquisition is looking particularly shrewd in the wake of the Mitchell news, and that's the addition of Chad Wingard from the Power.
Seemingly ready for a midfield-heavy role in 2019 after spending more time up the ground throughout 2018, it would seem Hawthorn would be better equipped to cover a hole up forward compared to a Mitchell-sized hole in the middle.
With the likes of Jack Gunston, Paul Puopolo and Luke Breust patrolling the forward 50, Wingard was always going to be an added luxury up forward.
But Clarkson's thinking might go in another direction entirely, and the attention may well turn to the Hawks' younger brigade to step-up and fill the void as best as possible.
2017 draftee James Worpel was one of the league's standout young midfielders last season and might be asked to spend more time in the midfield to compensate for Mitchell's loss, while the Hawks could look to rising star nominee Harry Morrison to continue his breakout form.
One other, left-field option might be to re-purpose stopper Daniel Howe, who has the body type and the physicality to make his presence felt around the contested ball. The question will be whether he can morph his game into one which is more production-based instead of accountability-based.
The Hawks now face an uphill battle to make the eight let alone replicate their shock top-four finish from 2018, and replacing a player who consistently touches the ball more than 40 times could be a bridge too far, even for a super coach like Alastair Clarkson.