Charles Barkley, Michael Strahan ‘hold court’ at Minnesota Wild rookies dinner

Former NBA star Charles Barkley and future NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan weren’t just among the best players of their eras, they were also at the top of the heap in their respective sports when it came to speaking their minds. (This probably explains why they’re currently staples on TV for the NBA and the NFL.)

If you had to pick an NHL team’s dinner for the two to crash, the Minnesota Wild probably wouldn’t be high on that list. Yet Wild center and former New Jersey Devil John Madden still has some ties to Strahan since the two lived in the same neighborhood, which opened the door for an unexpected night of fun during the Wild’s rookie dinner last weekend.

Michael Russo reports that Strahan and Barkley regaled the young players with stories (and sometimes cautionary tales) while taking in the delightful sight of watching the rookies go through time-honored hazing rituals.

“Suddenly, Charles started getting all these crazy ideas in his head. I was just like, ‘Oh man, here we go,'” rookie defenseman Jared Spurgeon said.

Yup, the rookie hazing of Spurgeon, Cody Almond and Clayton Stoner began.

“We gave a speech, told a joke, did three skits and sang a song,” Almond said, laughing. “All the boys were howling pretty good and [Barkley and Strahan] were loving it, too,” Almond said.

Spurgeon, who made his NHL debut on his 21st birthday Nov. 29, sang Travis McCoy’s “Billionaire,” where Spurgeon wants to be “on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen.”

Guess the teammates’ reaction on that one. “It was the first song that popped in my head, and the lyrics are pretty easy,” Spurgeon said.

Almond, 21, did a scene from “Step Brothers” where Will Ferrell sings Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” — the scene where John C. Reilly tells him, “You’ve got to know, that’s a voice of an angel … a combination of Fergie and Jesus.”

It’s a little disappointing that Almond didn’t perform another popular “song” (NSFW) from that movie, but chalk that up to a rookie mistake. Russo reports that the dinner set Spurgeon back $5,000, which might not sound like much, but it’s almost 10 percent of the $526K he makes if he stays at the NHL level.

The rookie maximum has been a great thing for NHL teams, but it makes these hazing rituals pretty tough on these young players’ wallets. Then again, can you really put a price on a night of unedited stories from two greats (and great talkers) like Barkley and Strahan?

Lundqvist will start four of five remaining games

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Henrik Lundqvist has had two tough starts since returning from injury.

The 35-year-old allowed five goals in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to Anaheim Sunday, and five more in his second game, a 5-4 OT loss to San Jose Tuesday.

But Lundqvist is still the No. 1 in New York, and for that reason he’s scheduled to start four of the Rangers’ five remaining regular-season games, with the hope he’ll be able to play his way back into form in time for the postseason.

Lundqvist was not happy after Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks, even though the point the Rangers gained earned them a playoff berth.

“I’m extremely disappointed right now,” he told reporters. “I’m glad we’re in, but I want to get the job done. I want the win. We found a way to lose this one at the end.”

With the loss, Lundqvist’s save percentage fell to .911 on the season. If it finishes at that number, it would be the lowest save percentage of his NHL career.

Antti Raanta‘s save percentage, meanwhile, sits at .922. In his last start, he shut out the Kings in Los Angeles.

The Rangers host Pittsburgh tomorrow and Philadelphia Sunday. Next week, they’re in Washington Wednesday, Ottawa Saturday, and then they close out their schedule at home to Pittsburgh Sunday.

Raanta will start one of the final two games.

The Rangers are likely to face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

Reinhart suggests benching him for an entire game might’ve been a stretch

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Two days after Sam Reinhart was bolted to the pine for the entirety of Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Columbus — his punishment for showing up late to a team stretch — Reinhart discussed the incident, and didn’t sound overly thrilled about how it played out.

“It’s a coach’s decision. It’s a management decision,” Reinhart said, per the Buffalo News. “From my perspective, I would have rather battled it out with my teammates.

“I don’t think five minutes in the morning is going to influence my preparation for a game, but it was a team stretch and I should have been there on time.”

Reinhart also had this to say:

Discipline of this nature is pretty common, though the way Reinhart’s played out was a bit more dramatic. Rather than park him in the press box as a healthy scratch, the Sabres — who didn’t have an extra forward, as Kyle Okposo was out sick — dressed the 21-year-old, then sat him for the entire 60 minutes.

The Buffalo News said the move “would seem to send a deeper message than merely being scratch,” adding that “there has been friction between players and [Sabres head coach Dan] Bylsma throughout the season.”

In the club’s defense, Reinhart is hardly the first young player to be punished for lateness. Nikita Zadorov had repeated issues with punctuality and, after being suspended, was eventually traded to Colorado. Evander Kane was parked for a game last season after sleeping in and missing a practice.

Of course, each situation is unique and some will argue showing up five minutes late for a stretch isn’t on par with what Zadorov and Kane did. Which is fair. That could be why Bylsma said the club might consider a policy change.

And that could by why Reinhart’s teammate, Jack Eichel, tried to put things in perspective.

“We’re obviously not going to hold it over his head here,” Eichel said, per the News. “He didn’t really do too much wrong.”

North Dakota’s Poolman turns pro, signs with Jets

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Another day, another North Dakota departure.

Having already lost freshman Tyson Jost (signed with Colorado) and sophomore Brock Boeser (signed with Vancouver), the school has now learned that junior blueliner Tucker Poolman has signed an entry-level deal with the Jets.

Poolman, 23, was taken by Winnipeg in the fifth round (127th overall) at the ’13 draft. From the Free Press:

UND’s top defenceman was playing between 25 and 30 minutes per game and was the fourth-highest scoring blue-liner in the NCHC. He finished the season with seven goals, 30 points, 14 penalty minutes and a plus-18 rating in 38 games.

Poolman’s final campaign ended on a sour note. He suffered a shoulder injury during the NCHC championship game and was unable to play in North Dakota’s season-ending loss to Boston University in the NCAA championships.

Coming to America: Jackets assign Carlsson to Cleveland

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His Swedish season over, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson is coming to North America to play some hockey.

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced today that Carlsson, the 29th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has been assigned to AHL Cleveland.

From the press release:

Carlsson, 20, recently completed his second full season with Linköping HC in the Swedish Hockey League where he collected two goals and two assists for four points with six penalty minutes and a +8 plus/minus rating in 40 games.

Linköping was eliminated from the SHL playoffs on Tuesday.

Carlsson is listed at 6-4 and 191 pounds.