It was determined years ago, after Marty Lapointe left for Boston as an unrestricted free agent. Lapointe was and will always be a heart-and-soul Red Wing.
When the Bruins offered him a mega-million-dollar contract in July 2001, the Wings told him he'd be crazy not to take the deal. Lapointe knew that he couldn't turn the offer down, but instead of jumping for joy, he and his wife cried because they didn't want to leave Detroit.
Even as a rookie, Lapointe's locker stall was located next to Steve Yzerman's. Yzerman had only one stall next to him because the corridor leading in and out of Detroit's dressing room was on the other side. Whereas all the other Wings had teammates on either side, Lapointe and Yzerman had each other — and it was by design.
A first-round draft pick (10th overall) in 1991, Lapointe was the leader of the next generation of Red Wings. It was common knowledge that when Yzerman retired, Lapointe was the next captain.
After Lapointe departed for Boston, Nick Lidstrom wasn't even on the radar because many believed he wasn't interested in being captain.
Obviously, that changed over the course of Lidstrom's Hall of Fame career, and he deservedly wore the "C" after Yzerman retired in 2006.
The next player to have the coveted spot next to Yzerman wasn't Lidstrom — usually lockers of a defenseman and forward aren't next to each other. It was Zetterberg, who became Yzerman's neighbor.
Zetterberg had been dazzling in Traverse City during the first week of Wings training camp in September 2002. So it didn't come as surprise that once the team arrived back in Detroit, he was sitting next to Yzerman.
To this day, if you were to mention Yzerman to Zetterberg or Lapointe, they would have a look admiration while telling you how Yzerman taught them the game and guided them on how to conduct themselves as Red Wings.
Detroit is a traditional organization. Being an Original Six franchise means something to everybody associated with the team. There's a Red Wings code that each player is expected to follow.
Lapointe and Zetterberg were chosen to sit next to Yzerman because they were being groomed to be Detroit's future captain. It's the Red Wings way.
Many have speculated that the Red Wings might dangle their captaincy in front of potential offseason acquisitions, such as Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. That's not going to happen. A new addition to the team might get an "A," but the "C" already belongs to Zetterberg.
And for those of you wondering who sits next to Zetterberg in the dressing room these days?
It's Valtteri Filppula, a player the organization views as just scratching the surface of his enormous potential and captain material.