The letter is just a thin piece of embroidered fabric, a couple of inches long. It doesn't look like anything special when pulled out of an equipment-room drawer.
But when stitched onto the uniform of a designated Shark, the "C" will be positioned on the upper left chest, right over the heart — fitting because a hockey captain is expected to have a huge one.
No sport has created a greater mythology around the role of captain. In other leagues, the position is a mostly honorary title like the players who handle the pre-game coin flip duties in football.
In hockey, it means something.
"It's always been that way and it always will be because our sport is different," said Sharks defenseman Rob Blake, a longtime captain with the Los Angeles Kings. "There needs to be an ultimate voice in the room that everyone else responds to, and it belongs to the captain."
The importance of the Sharks' captaincy was magnified this summer when Patrick Marleau lost the "C" — a decision that made headlines not only in San Jose, but throughout Canada — in the wake of the Sharks' embarrassing first-round playoff exit.
Now, perhaps the question of the preseason is who will get the letter.
All-Star defenseman Dan Boyle is considered the most likely candidate, although Blake is another possibility. General manager Doug Wilson, the captain of the original Sharks team, said he has an open mind and coach Todd McLellan indicated that a decision might not be made until the eve of the Oct. 1 opener.
Whoever is named captain will be expected to uphold a time-honored tradition. He must show leadership, courage and emotional stability — qualities that engender teammates to rally around him and follow.
"In hockey you need that guy who is the catalyst for your team and sets the tone, night in and night out," said center Joe Pavelski, another emerging Sharks leader. "You need someone to set the standards and lead by example."
But while the "C" is hockey's badge of honor, it carries a profound weight for such a small piece of material.
And a price is paid for a team's failure. Just ask Marleau.
Hockey players themselves wonder why the job of captain isn't as important in other sports.
"Why don't you know who the captains are in baseball?" Pavelski said.
Pavelski only could list Boston's Jason Varitek and the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter. There's a reason for that. Just three Major League Baseball teams have a captain, Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox is the third.
McLellan believes the focus on hockey captains stems from the fact that the "C" stands out on jerseys. But it's not the letter's visibility to fans that causes the captain's role to sometimes be inflated
"It can be over-magnified in the room," he said. "The other players can avoid some things because they believe it's the captain's job. But that's not how it works. Everybody needs to take responsibility."
Captains have come in all ages, positions and demeanors. They have been like Mark Messier, whose fiery approach came to personify leadership. They also can be like Steve Yzerman, whose record 20-year captaincy with Detroit was defined by quiet confidence.
But Blake said regardless of style, all captains share common traits. They need to be stand-up men; ones who address officials on the ice, call out teammates when necessary and face every media question after a game — especially following a loss.
"The captain's real work is done in the room, behind closed doors," Blake added. "He needs to be even-keeled through it all. That's always been the mark of a captain."
Boyle added that a captain must be something of a team social director and serve as the link between coaches and players.
"It's not that easy for a young guy to talk to the coach, to just walk into his office or understand what's going on," Boyle said. "Yet he can talk to the captain."
But count Joe Thornton among those who are mystified by this whole deification of the captaincy. He was named Boston's captain at just 21, and each year as the Bruins struggled in the playoffs, criticism increased that the easygoing "Jumbo Joe" would be better off without the burden of the "C."
"There's so much emphasis on it, and I never understood why," Thornton said. "I guess I really didn't care. I just played, scored goals, made points, and got into fights. I was going to play the way I always did, and having a 'C' was not going to change any of that."
Getting stripped of the letter by a team is akin to a battlefield demotion. That's why there were questions about just how awkward it would be for Marleau now that he has lost the captaincy.
But Marleau, who again organized the informal team skates this summer, maintains he will be the same leader he has always been.
"It's not going to change anything," said Marleau, who, as captain, took the brunt of criticism for last spring's playoff meltdown. "I'm still going to do that other stuff whether I have a letter or not."
Marleau might become an example of a player who thrives without the official leadership role. "I see that Patty is having a little bit more fun," Wilson added.
Wilson emphasized that "a letter doesn't make a leader" and that changing the team's reputation as talented underachievers will require the help of everyone, not just the players who get the "C" or "A" insignia. (Players who wear an "A" traditionally were called alternate captains, but increasingly they're called assistant captains in the NHL.)
That sentiment from Wilson was echoed by Yzerman, who now is Detroit's vice president. "The more I went along in my career, wearing the 'C' wasn't as important as having a group of guys who were strong, positive leaders with me," he said.
No one will be surprised if the Sharks' letter goes to Boyle.
"Of course it's a compliment," Boyle said. "I guess it means people have respect for what I bring to the rink. We'll see what happens. Obviously I want whatever is best for the team, but it would be an honor."
And a huge responsibility.