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Negotiations bog down as sides dig in on contract issues

(Reuters) - National Hockey League (NHL) and players' association officials returned to the bargaining table on Sunday but made no breakthrough in settling their long-running, bitter labor dispute.

With both sides digging in on player contract issues, there appeared little hope of resolution to a new collective bargaining agreement that would salvage the season.

"We made it very clear to the players' association these issues are important to us, and unless they are willing to address these issues in a meaningful way or even have a proposal to address them in a meaningful way, I don't know where we go from here," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in New York after Sunday's hour-long session.

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr was equally blunt.

"The owners made it clear that there is no give with respect to any of their proposals," Fehr said.

"That unless players are prepared to take -- and this is my phrase, not theirs -- down to the comma, there's nothing to do.

"We're past the point of give and take. (That's) what I am told Gary (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) said when I was out of the room."

There were no plans for another bargaining session although the sides likely will touch base on Monday before the NHL Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Toronto.

League owners would like to avoid long-term contracts, limiting them to five years, delay free agency until a player turns 28 or plays eight years, have two-year entry deals and limit salary arbitration until after five years of play.

They also want to reduce the players' share of $3.3 billion in annual revenue to 50 percent from the current 57 percent.

"They are not issues that can be traded off per se," Daly said.

"They are all important issues to us. That doesn't mean you can't talk about them and shake them.... There is flexibility around the issues we need to achieve but they are not issues that we can walk away from."

More than 300 regular-season games have already been canceled and the league's showcase event, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, called off since the lockout began on September 15.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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