In the end, it came down to where David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak wanted to play.

Both, it turns out, wanted to play for the Maple Leafs.

Bozak, maybe because it’s the only team he’s ever known. Clarkson, because it’s the team he grew up idolizing.

“I wore the Leaf jersey as a kid,” said Clarkson, the former New Jersey Devil introduced to the Toronto media on Friday. “It will be pretty special to put it on.

“In our heart, the more we thought about it, being close to home, wearing that jersey when I was young and idolizing some of the guys that played here, meant something to me.”

The happiest man in the room might have been Eric Clarkson, David’s dad.

“Like a dream come true,” said the proud father. “When he first signed with the New Jersey Devils, I was waiting for the day he’d come back here.”

Clarkson might have been the most sought-after free agent forward on the market. The Leafs gave him seven years, $36.75 million (all figures U.S.), a cap hit of $5.25 million. Bozak got five years, $21 million, a cap hit of $4.25 million.

The Leafs also signed defenceman T.J. Brennan to a one-year deal worth $600,000, locked up restricted free agent goalie Jonathan Bernier for two seasons, and re-upped with Frazer McLaren (two years, $1.4 million).

Clarkson, 29, made a name for himself in New Jersey as an undrafted player who worked himself up the NHL food chain. Motivated by people who told him he’d never make it and that he was too soft coming out of junior hockey, he morphed from a role player to a top-six forward capable of scoring 30 goals.
Leaf Nation already has a nickname for him: Wendel Clarkson.

“When I was a kid, I ran around the house wearing a Wendel Clark jersey,” said Clarkson. “I pretended I was him. My dad brought me up a Leaf fan.

“I play a style of hockey where I come out every night and wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s the type of player I am. I try to do different little things, whether it’s scoring, or hitting. The pressure, every game you go on that ice, you need to do well, you need to do something. Every night I’m going to go out there, put the hard hat on and go to work.”

Leaf fans know about Bozak, the two-way centre criticized in some circles for lack of offence, but still deemed by the front office to be a better fit than Mikhail Grabovski, who was bought out by the club.