Here we are half-way through the Grand Prix series, and five different Japanese men have been on the podium through three events. Let's look at the road to the Final for each of them.
With a third place at Skate America and a surprising win over teammate Daisuke Takahashi at Cup of China, Machida is the first man to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final.
Let's look at the other four men who have a shot at joining him in Sochi...
Kozuka came out with two strong programs to start the season at Skate America. With his gold medal there, a fourth-place or higher result at this weekends' Rostelecom Cup should guarantee him a spot in the Final, as well. Other threats for the title are Canadian World Champion Patrick Chan and teammate Nobunari Oda.
Hanyu set the World Record short program score at Skate America, only to come apart a bit in the free skate and end up with the silver medal overall. He next skates at the final Grand Prix stop, NHK Trophy in his home country. Former World Champion and teammate Daisuke Takahashi, as well as Skate Canada winner Javier Fernandez of Spain will also compete. Hanyu most likely needs a top two finish to assure himself a spot in the Final.
The former World Champion had a disappointing showing at the Cup of China, but was still able to earn the silver medal. He is in the same position as Hanyu. A silver medal or higher at NHK Trophy should be enough to qualify him to the Final. He also has the lowest event overall score of the five Japanese men, so he will definitely be looking to redeem himself at home.
Oda has the most difficult path to the Final of the five men. He started his Grand Prix season with a bronze medal finish behind Fernandez and Chan at Skate Canada. He competes again this weekend at Rostelecom Cup and most likely needs a gold medal to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. A silver medal, as long as Patrick Chan does not win, could also give him a slim shot at qualifying.
Trophee Bompard Situation
The wildcard through all of this is the Trophee Bompard competition. Many of the skaters (Joubert, Song, Hendrickx, Besseghier) either withdrew from their first competition or only have one competition and therefore cannot make the Final. Florent Amodio, who has a fourth-place finish already in the series, could potentially just make the Final with a gold medal at home. Jeremy Abbott was fifth in Skate America and a gold here would still make him unlikely to qualify. So, if Amodio wins, things could get interesting. If anyone else wins, it will likely have no effect on the final six.
Rostelecom Cup Situations
If Oda wins in Russia, he should be in.
If Oda wins silver in Russia and Patrick Chan wins, he has a slim chance of qualifying to the Final depending on what Hanyu and Takahashi do at NHK. If either of them finishes third place, they would go into a tie-breaker on overall scores with Oda from both competitions. Oda is 5.40 points behind Hanyu and has a 6.59-point lead over Takahashi right now.
If Oda wins silver in Russia and Patrick Chan finishes third, then Chan is put in the same position as Oda is in the previous situation. Chan has a 5.09-point lead overall versus Oda right now, and with this result, Oda would have to overcome those points to pass Chan in the standings.
If Oda wins bronze in Russia, he is most likely out of the running for the Final.
As I mentioned above, Kozuka likely just needs a fourth place or higher in Russia.
NHK Trophy Situations
If Takahashi/Hanyu go one-two in either order, both will qualify for the Grand Prix Final.
If either of Hanyu or Takahashi finishes third, they would be put in the Oda situation above.
If Fernandez finishes in the top four, he should also qualify.
For What it is Worth...
As of now, here are the overall first competition scores for the six likely men fighting for five Grand Prix Final spots:
Fernandez (15 points) 253.94 points
Kozuka (15 points) 251.44 points
Hanyu (13 points) 243.74 points
Chan (13 points) 243.43 points
Takahashi (13 points) 231.75 points
Oda (11 points) 238.34 points
The only other contender is Florent Amodio, who needs to win the gold medal at Trophee Bompard next week.
Edited to Add: American skaters Johnny Weir (Russia, France) and Richard Dornbush (Russia, Japan) both have yet to compete in the series. I would say Weir is extremely unlikely to have an impact on the top results, while Dornbush has a slightly better chance.