Has Buddy wrecked his year already?
Lance Franklin's decision to put off his contract talks until the end of the season creates plenty of headaches for the Hawks. The dual Coleman Medallist says he has no intention of leaving Hawthorn, but we have heard this all too often in recent years, with Gary Ablett, Tom Scully and Brendon Goddard all saying the same thing before they decided to switch clubs.
Regardless of whether he stays or not, Buddy's bold call raises the question of how he will perform with constant media speculation about his eventual employer in 2014. This hype and the accompanying sleepless nights severely affected the seasons of Goddard and Travis Cloke last year. Franklin, though, is used to dealing with pressure. Last year he returned from a six-game break where he was involved in car accidents, speeding incidents and wild rumours about why he wasn't taking to the field and performed as strongly as ever, kicking 18 goals in his final five games of the season. The main thing that may restrict Franklin this season could be Hawthorn's plan to reduce their reliance on the four-time All Australian - in what could be an unintentional dress rehearsal for 2014 and beyond.
Can the Hawks atone for last year's grand final loss?
The Hawks spent most of last year as the favourites to win the premiership, but aside from their demolition of Collingwood in the qualifying final, they choked at important times, just getting across the line against Adelaide in the preliminary final before going down to the Sydney Swans by 10 points in the grand final.
To Hawthorn's credit, instead of writing off the grand final loss to some poor kicking in the grand final and hoping things would click for them this year, they acted aggressively and recruited Brian Lake from the Western Bulldogs to boost their defensive stocks. The move will free Josh Gibson up in defence, something they were able to do with great effect at times in 2012, as well as ensuring they are able to shut down the competition's best forwards.
The Hawks tactic of pinpoint passing by foot is still some way from being countered by other clubs, and while they may have lost Clinton Young, they still have plenty of other elite kicks like Grant Birchall, Luke Hodge and Matt Suckling.
Add to that a forward line that boasts Franklin, Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli and emerging talents Luke Breust and Jack Gunston and the Hawks look well placed to take the flag this year, barring serious injuries to key players.
How many games will Luke Hodge play?
One of the more amazing aspects of last year's run to the grand final, was that it was largely achieved without much input from inspirational captain Luke Hodge. The skipper managed just 10 games after damaging his posterior cruciate ligament and for a lot of those he was either played as the starting substitute or was given limited game time before being subbed off.
It would only take an injury-free season to Hodge, who can fill holes forward, back or in the midfield to significantly improve a side that went within 10 points of being premiers last year. Still, thoughts of Hodge being able to play for a whole season seem a way off yet. He is still recovering from yet more knee surgery and will miss the early rounds of the NAB Cup, but he is hopeful of playing the Hawks' final pre-season game in mid-March before making himself available for round one. That still suggests a limited pre-season training regimen which will hamper his ability to get through a season. We reckon he will play a more important role than last year, but his fearless attack on the ball may finally be beginning to take its toll on his body. He might only be able to manage half a season but if he is available and fit during the finals, Hodge could make all the difference.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.