2015 Grand Prix Final preview (dance): An unpredictable dance field?

Here's what would probably sound like an oxymoron to you - an unpredictable dance field. That's precisely what we have this week at the 2015 Grand Prix Final. You generally understand the pecking order in ice dance, even if the teams are similar in quality. But this week is very different - the World champs, Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, have been out of competition with Papadakis' concussion, Chock/Bates and Weaver/Poje have seen their gap above the others narrowing, and the Shibutanis and Cappellini/Lanotte are making comebacks. Might we get a surprise in Barcelona? Here's my look.

Rocker Predictions: 2015 Grand Prix Final
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GOLD Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani USA - Wait, what?

(I wanted to just stop there and not write anything else, but I resisted the urge.) Perhaps I'm one or two competitions too early, but they are definitely on the rise. Since winning bronze at the 2011 Worlds five seasons ago, the Shibutanis have been relegated to the second tier of dance teams. But they kept clawing and kept improving, and they are now putting up the best numbers of their career. What's amazing is that their win two weeks ago at NHK put them squarely at the top of the point totals on the Grand Prix.

Perhaps their biggest obstacle this week will be skating in the first group for their short dance, which could keep their components down a bit. What will be interesting to see is how they stack up against Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates, both of whom have had the upper hand for the past few seasons. But right now, the Shibutanis have two of the most memorable programs of the season, and the judges have taken notice. 

SILVER Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje CAN - It may very well be Weaver/Poje's Grand Prix Final this week. They come in as the defending champions and the only team this season to notch two Grand Prix victories, so they definitely have the "favorite" status this week. They've got two very solid programs this season, and they've been delivering strong performances so far this season. In ice dance, it's generally a lot easier to stay at the top, but when you got a team with momentum (the Shibutanis), it may be a lot tougher to maintain your spot, and that may be what Weaver/Poje are feeling this week.

BRONZE Madison Chock/Evan Bates USA - In a season of what seems to be higher-than-usual scores across the board, Chock/Bates have not experienced too much of that. And it has a bit to do with the fact that they have already had to change their short dance twice (once pre-season and once before the GP) and made adjustments to their free dance. So in a lot of ways, their readiness relative to others has just been lower. It will be interesting to see where they stack up this week, as it may have a huge impact on the rest of the season (talk about pecking orders). And to be honest, this is really the first time in a long time that Chock/Bates will be vulnerable to the Shibutanis.

4. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte ITA - In a lot of ways, Cappellini/Lanotte got the same treatment as the Shibutanis did. After getting a surprise win at Worlds two years ago (this was after a sixth at the Olympics), they didn't even win one international competition last season, ultimately ending up fourth at Worlds. But they look to be back in the good graces of the international panel again this season, notching the highest free dance score of the season during their win at Cup of China over Chock/Bates. They definitely have podium potential this week. This top four might be really close.

5. Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev RUS - They've had a solid comeback season after taking all of last season off with Soloviev's surgery. The sole Russian dance team in Barcelona is not quite podium material but also could challenge if things go wrong with the top teams. Their weakness is the lack of cleanness and quality that the top four here have. 

6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue USA - Quite the statement that Hubbell/Donohue made by qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final at the expense of two of the top Russian dance teams. Of course, it's tough to assess because they weren't in direct competition with either Russian team, but Hubbell/Donohue are definitely making some strides this season. And their three personal bests at NHK Trophy two weeks ago certainly set them up well for the rest of the season. That said, with this field, they have the most outside shot of the six.