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9:00 am - Although there have yet to be any negotiations on a contract extension, Andy Sutton told Point Blank he hopes to stay an Islander beyond this season.


"I haven't heard anything yet, but I would love to stay and be a part of this team," said Sutton. "I love the area and love the team. Most of all, I love the direction our team is headed. I've been in the league ten years, and I can tell you without any hesitation that this is the best group of players and people that I have ever had the privilege of being a part of."


Without a new deal, the defenseman would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Sutton, who turns 35 on March 10, signed a three-year contract with a $3 million per cap hit with the Islanders in the summer of 2007. Although he made it clear he will not negotiate in public, Sutton wanted everyone to know his priority is to remain an Islander.


"Ultimately it's up to Charles (Wang) and Garth (Snow)," said Sutton. "I understand they have a lot of important decisions to make. I can just tell you it would mean a lot, knowing they wanted me here. But either way, they should know - and the fans should know - I'm fully focused on this season and doing whatever I can to get our team into the playoffs so we can take the next steps."


Sutton played 55 games in 2007-08 with the Islanders and just 23 last season because of injuries. After Radek Martinek was lost for the season with an injury, he became the Islanders' shutdown defenseman and has been their fiercest body-checker. Scott Gordon, who has called Sutton's performance "outstanding" and included the defenseman with Dwayne Roloson and Kyle Okposo in discussing the team's MVPs, has given Sutton at least 22 minutes of playing time in eight of the last ten games.


Visiting scouts say Sutton is playing the best hockey of his career. I asked the 6-6 defenseman if he agreed.


"I've thought about that the last week or so, and I believe I am," said Sutton. "I had some good years in Atlanta, but I think there's more consistency in my game now. I have to thank our coaches for that.


"I'm also moving better than I have ever moved in my career. Before I got hurt last season, we worked on a new strength and agility program that's done wonders for me. If you look at my hockey career going all the way back to college, I've been a late-bloomer. I feel really good that I have several strong years ahead of me."


Adhering to team policy, general manager Garth Snow will not discuss contract negotiations. Purely coincidentally, Sutton's agent Pat Morris attended the game at the Coliseum on Tuesday night between the Islanders and Red Wings.


Point Blank View: Sutton missed large parts of his first two seasons, but is showing why the Islanders signed him over other available defensemen three years ago. The Islanders know Sutton has the size and physical play they lack, and he fits in Gordon's system.


If the Islanders set him free in July, Sutton could get himself a raise. However, he wants to stay and it's apparent the coach and the core of young players have a lot of respect for him.


A fair resolution would appear to be a two-year contract extension at $3 million per. This keeps a reliable player in the fold and still leaves plenty of room for the Islanders to sign another top defenseman.


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