Most people would say the goaltender is the most important player on a successful hockey team. This was certainly true for two of the last three Stanley Cup winners. One of those goaltenders is a UFA.

Ray Emery, his number speak for themselves. He went 17-1 for the Blackhawks last year playing so well he even drew a Vazina vote. At the start of the season he’ll be 31 years old which puts him squarely in the prime goaltending years. He’s got playoff experience, he’s rebounded from injury and hard times, clearly he’s not the fragile flower some goalies have shown themselves to be.

Dan Ellis can’t seem to catch a break, last year when Cam Ward went down with an injury seemingly opening the door for him, he gets cut by a skate. Like most backups he’s seen enough NHL systems that he should be able to fit into most locker rooms without creating waves.

Richard Bachman has put up a couple strong AHL campaigns, and even played passably well for the Dallas Stars. At just 25 he’s one of the younger goalies on the list, and may well be a year or two away from being a reliable NHL starter, but general managers shouldn’t overlook him.

Jason LaBarbera has solid goaltending numbers and an amazing knack for finding places he’s behind other impressive goalies, most recently Mike Smith and before his move to the East and meltdown in Philly, Ilya Bryzgalov. A team that wants there backup to play twenty or so games a season can do much worse than the Barnaby BC native.

Anton Khudobin, this 27 year old Russia has been in the Boston system the last two seasons and played quite well in both the AHL and NHL. He could almost certainly hold down a starting job in the NHL, and even created some controversy outplaying Tuukka Rask for stretches this year.

Tim Thomas, while he didn’t play hockey anywhere last season two time Vezina Trophy winners with a cup win, international experience, and a Conn-Smythe on their resume aren’t exactly something you find everyday. Even if you take his three worst NHL season save percentages as his baseline for coming out of his extended vacation (.905, .915,.917) you’re still looking at numbers better than several of last years starters.

Overall this free agent class lacks depth, the left wing is perhaps the shallowest for top six pickings.

Vinny Prospal at 38 is had a productive year for the putting up .63ppg for Columbus after a stop in the Czech league. His numbers were pretty consistent through out the season. He clearly contributed to the Blue Jackets push towards the playoffs int he last half of the season. The 1993 entry draft 3rd round selection has 65 games of NHL playoff experience.

Victor Stalberg, with stops in the SHL (SEL) and KHL during the lockout, Stalberg may have played more professional hockey last year than any other NHL player with 72 regular season games, then 19 more in the playoffs for the Blackhawks. A middle or bottom six player on elite teams, Stalberg may just have the tools to play further up on some teams, at 27 there’s more tread on the tires than most of this UFA class of left wings posses.

Simon Gagne at 33 this injury prone but undeniably talented winger has played for Tampa Bay and Los Angeles while spending the bulk of his career with the Flyers. Any team looking for a potential impact player fairly inexpensively should look at Gagne, he might be this years Brad Boyes.

Nathan Gerbe is a one of the smallest players in the NHL, which has never stopped him from playing a physical game above his weight class. A depth forward who has played in all situations, he also has better playoff points per game than regular season. The former Boston College Eagle, and River City Lancer (USHL) may be a victim of Buffalo’s apparent clean sweep program.

Alexei Ponikarovsky is one of those wingers who played his best hockey early in his career and has bounced around the league trying to find his niche again.  Clearly there is something there other wise Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t have added him to the roster twice in the past few years, but maybe that something takes vacations from time to time.