It’s safe to say the game changed when the AFL decided to introduce the concept of free agency into its ranks. Players gained more freedom than they’ve ever had in the modern era to move around on a more independent level. It was within the rights of opposing clubs to chase those who qualified as restricted or non-restricted, depending on their pay bracket and seasons served at one club, free agents.

This brought about plenty of player movement happening at a far quicker pace then we’ve seen in recent years. One of the marquee moves that was ironically one of the more drawn-out affairs of the period, happened when after 205 games at St Kilda, utility Brendon Goddard opted to pack his bags and move to Essendon, backed by a longer contract on a larger salary.

His own personal motives and the idea of loyalty aside, which is a discussion for another day and has been done to death by fans and players alike, the long-term effects of his departure are unclear. Whether the Saints have the immediate talent to cover his loss is a question we won’t have the answer until the season gets underway. However, there’s certainly an argument on both sides that with Goddard departing, the Saints may be helped more than they’re hindered when looking at the big picture.

On one hand, the man is an outstanding utility player who can fill a slot in almost any position. Countless times throughout his career, Goddard has been called upon to play a variety of roles from midfield to a defensive sweeper, arguably his most effective role, as well as a lead-up forward target. His flexibility is a massive asset to Essendon and the element of his game which the Saints will miss most.

Structurally, he causes headaches for opposition coaches; his ability to play across the field means it’s hard to predict how to match up on him for four quarters. There’s no doubt the Bombers will look to utilise this and it leaves a gaping hole in the Saints’ midfield depth as well as the backline, particularly from a rebounding perspective.

Despite being a dual All-Australian in 2009 and 2010, the latter year seeing Goddard bring the Saints to within an inch of the 2010 flag with his memorable mark in the final quarter, his impact since has been questioned as he has struggled with more on-field attention. Supporters have claimed that his loss isn’t nearly to the same extent it would’ve been 12 or 24 months ago because he simply isn’t the same player.

Statistically, Goddard was unable to produce the same colossal numbers in 2011 and 2012 as he did during his All-Australian days, during which he was considered by many to be a top five player in the competition. This also coincided with the Saints’ drop from premiership contender to an experienced fringe finals side. It makes you wonder, despite his unquestioned flexibility; maybe the Saints have lost more in experience than anything else.

There’s also the argument that with the Saints in a transition phase, it gives younger players the chance to blossom in a variety of roles. With a clear list of older players mixed with some promising young talent, it gives someone on the rise the task of filling some big shoes. Players such as Arryn Sippos, Jack Steven and Tom Simpkin are all showing signs of being good players and could have more room to develop their games in Goddard’s absence.

It’s a case of some short-term pain for long-term gain and with second-year coach Scott Watters at the helm, it’s a challenging structural hole that could have bigger benefits in the long run if more of the Saints’ ‘nearly there’ players step up and take charge. We could very well see them struggle in the early parts of 2013, however, it’s essential the next crop of youngsters gain experience to pave the way for St Kilda’s future and with an ageing list, Goddard’s departure aids that direction.

It seems Goddard has the potential to fit in very well with the Bombers’ setup, a team aiming for flags in the next few seasons. There’s no doubt that despite a compensation pick and some promising post-season player acquisitions, St Kilda may struggle for depth in 2013. However, with a higher demand on their up-and-comers to produce, you’d suspect Watters is intent on putting more responsibility on these players to ensure the Saints stay finals contenders with the list in a delicate position.

In the scheme of things, it could help bridge the gaping gap between experience and youth and see the team push themselves in the right direction past this season.