2015 Grand Prix Final preview (pairs): Everyone's chasing Duhamel/Radford

Of all the disciplines at this week's Grand Prix Final, pairs is the one that is probably missing the most big names. Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, originally qualified for the Final, withdrew with Sui's injury. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, on the comeback trail, didn't even get a chance to qualify because Volosozhar's injury took them out of NHK. And the newest sensation, Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot, was not on the Grand Prix.  But not to fear, because this week's pairs' event is still going to be pretty spectacular. And to make it better, there are seven pairs instead of six! All the result of the amended qualification rules after the Trophee Eric Bompard cancellation.

Rocker Predictions: 2015 Grand Prix Final
Full schedule #GPFBarcelona

GOLD Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN - The last time Duhamel/Radford lost was 2014 Worlds. Yup, it's been almost two years since they were not at the top of the podium - that's nine consecutive wins, ten if you add Canadians last year. But while they have continued winning this season, things haven't come as easily for them, and pairs now looks completely different than it did this time last year. With this field, Duhamel/Radford can't afford to make the mistakes that they did at NHK Trophy two weeks ago. But knowing how they bounce back from disappointing performances, this week could be the site of some career bests for them.

SILVER Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - The Olympic silver medalists are on an upward trajectory for sure. After an incredibly disheartening Skate America to start their Grand Prix, Stolbova/Klimov looked refreshed and confident again in their win at Rostelecom Cup. Without a quad yet, they've resorted to battling by upgrading their side-by-sides, becoming the first pair ever to land a side-by-side triple toe-triple toe-double toe. The momentum is there, and they could very well take gold if Duhamel/Radford make mistakes again this week. And that really would feel like vindication for them for sure.

BRONZE Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov RUS - For me, the comeback of the season in pairs is not so much Volosozhar/Trankov but more Kavaguti/Smirnov. Why? I don't think I ever expected Volosozhar/Trankov to have a dip in their level. Kavaguti/Smirnov, however, have gone through some rough patches with injuries and inconsistency in the past couple of seasons. But they are here this season stronger than ever, with more difficulty in their free skate than ever. It's pretty amazing. Their throw quad sal and throw quad loop may not be the highest-flying, fastest, most impressive tricks in the world, but they are rotated and get the job done. The podium is very much in the picture for them, and so is the gold. For the statisticians out there, this is their seventh GPF - they've gotten onto the podium once and never been higher than third.

4. Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim USA - An American pair qualifying for the Grand Prix Final is big time news. It hasn't happened since 2007, when Keauna McLaughlin/Rockne Brubaker did it. Scimeca/Knierim have really set themselves apart this season, and put themselves in the conversation with the top pairs through their explosive power and their dynamic skating. They are hitting upper 60s with their short programs and they aren't even completely clean. This week's GPF is a HUGE opportunity for them to climb even another step up. If they can put two clean skates down this week, they will not only get personal bests but also put put themselves in the podium outsiders conversation at Worlds. But to do that, Scimeca/Knierim will need to get those side-by-sides in order. And though they have been getting better this season, the side-by-sides have been their toughest hurdle this season so far.

5. Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN - The "lucky losers," if you will. Peng/Zhang were the ones who benefited directly from their teammates Sui/Han's withdrawal from Barcelona. As has always been the case for them, the side-by-sides are a bit on and off, and that's really why Seguin/Bilodeau qualified above them in the first place. With the younger Chinese pairs getting more international exposure and more maturity, Peng/Zhang are looking to make a bit of a statement this week. The quad sal, though, doesn't look ready, but they are trying it in their free skate anyway (to varying degrees of success and unintended hilarity). The podium is a possibility for them, but they will need to be cleaner than they've been. In a lot of ways, taking the quad out and just doing the triple sal would probably give them the best chance, but that would be too much of a nearsighted strategy.

6. Xiaoyu Yu/Yang Jin CHN - Like Peng/Zhang, Yu/Jin have been on-and-off with the side-by-sides, and like Peng/Zhang, they are throwing a quad sal that really just isn't ready for prime time. They are a superbly elegant pair, but are still in the shadows of Sui/Han and Peng/Zhang. But this would be a great venue for them to break through, and two clean programs can do a lot for them in Barcelona.

7. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - When Seguin/Bilodeau took fifth at Nebelhorn to start the season, a lot of skating fans were scratching their heads a bit. This was a super consistent pair last season who made the transition to senior Worlds very seamlessly (they were eighth in their debut). But their righted the ship with the bronze at Skate America and then third in the short at Bompard. Technically, they have the most to make up this week against the other pairs.